Everybody Is Good At Something (or, “Can You Find This Tree?”)

Wednesday 11 March 2020 19:35

A few days ago our local canal society posted a little puzzle on their Facebook page. In the course of dredging the canal, a drone had been found, presumably having crash landed in the water some time before. Whilst the drone itself was no longer working, and was worthless, miraculously the camera card was still readable, and had footage that might be precious to someone. The challenge was on! Could the owner be found?

The society folk posted a still shot on Facebook showing an aerial view of part of the front of a house. The shot tied in with other footage and was likely to be where the owner lived, and although there was no guarantee of course, the assumption was that this property was near to where the drone crash landed; but they didn’t say where that was.

I looked at the photo and instantly something about the house rang a bell. I was sure the colour of the brickwork and roof tiles was a style used on a very large estate – a combination of housing and industrial units – where, 35-40 years ago, I worked, and where at lunchtimes I’d sometimes go for a run along the canal that passed nearby.

Over to Google Maps.

Now I must confess at this point that this is a bit of hobby of mine, trying to find exact locations based on snippets of photographs or descriptions. So from hereon I was in my element (and before you cry out, “Haven’t you got better things to do?”, I would respond by asking how many games of Solitaire or Freecell have you played in the last week?).

The first step was to ascertain which parts of the estate were nearest to the canal, then dive down into Street View and try to find the house, or at least identify the style and narrow down the location. I thought from the photo that it was a terraced house, as indeed that was what the majority of the houses were, but search though I might, I couldn’t find any with the sloping roof beside the front door; and the garage too was unusual as they were rare. What I didn’t realise was, the photo was misleading me by only showing part of the frontage!

Almost at the point of giving up, I thought I’d just try spreading the net a little wider to the fringes of the estate, and bingo, I finally found an example of the type of house, which turned out to be a very different design to the majority, being semi-detached and quite large.

Once the actual style of house was identified – though not yet the actual house in the photo – I zoomed out to the aerial view of Google Maps and studied the shape from above, then scanned around the estate as a bird would, searching for the same shape, diving down into Street View whenever one was located.

None of them matched the photo, but then I had a brainwave.

I’d been concentrating on the front door design and the driveway. But Google sometimes don’t revisit an area for many years. Front doors get replaced. Driveways get altered. I needed to focus on something else from the photo, and that’s when I realised the key to it all was the tree! Find a house of the right design, with a lamp post and silver birch tree just to the left of the driveway (on a large estate that spans both sides of about two miles of the canal). Hah! Piece of cake.

And that’s how I found it. From that point on it really was very easy. I was pretty sure I’d narrowed it down to a cul-de-sac on the opposite side of the canal from the main estate, and walking along the street in Street View it was easy to find the lamp post and make doubly sure by zooming right in to the markings on the tree. There’s about 7 years between the images (Google last visited there in 2012 apparently) but luckily tree markings may grow and stretch a bit, but they don’t change much (and lucky too, no-one chopped the tree down).

What has all this got to do with anything? Well, it comes back to the old negative voices I suppose. I submitted my findings to the canal folk, and they were overjoyed, and full of praise for the quality of my ‘detective work’. I just had fun with it, but it reminded me that it is something I’m good at – I’m sure it’s an ADHD thing, seeing the big picture and then hyper focussing down to the tiny details – and before, again, I hear the cries of, “Yes but it’s not going to earn you any money is it!”, actually. I remembered that in the past, it has.

A few years ago I made a cool fifty smackeroonies when someone asked me to find “a big house, right on the coast somewhere either Hampshire or Dorset, that was used as a hospital or convalescent home during WWII”. He’d spent a brief spell there during the war after being injured, and had glimpsed what he thought was it during a tv programme, but couldn’t remember any other details at all! (Yes, I not only found it, but I also was able to put him in touch with a local history guru nearby, and – as it, now a private house, had been recently up for sale – sent photos.)

I don’t think I’m about to set up as a Private Detective, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded that skills that might seem a bit ‘off the wall’ are skills nevertheless. You might be the only person for miles around who can balance a tomato on their nose. Be proud. And who knows, one day you might be just the person someone else is looking for.

A Migraine, Some Scanning, and Small Successes

Friday 6 March 2020 23:59!

Quick post as it’s almost midnight and I’m pooped.

I overslept a bit, and was disappointed to realise I had to accept that the slightly ‘off’ feeling I woke with was rapidly developing into a full blown migraine by lunchtime. Thankfully I caught it in time with a tablet and by late afternoon I was functioning ok and able to do a bit of work.

It may seem surprising, but I’ve never bothered with scanning my artwork. Posting online I simply take a photo with my phone or iPad. I’m not that bothered about quality, as long as it’s fairly sharp, and I’m certainly not bothered about the colours being precise. If I’m going to be creating prints though in due course, that’s a whole different ball game. So today I did my first scans, testing to see if my existing printer’s scanning function was up to it. Thankfully it seems like it is.

Second task for the evening was to make sure my Affinity Photo app on the Mac was updated, and then do a very little bit of ‘tidying’ of last night’s soup can sketch in preparation for making a tutorial video of the very basics for my patrons.

I didn’t get as far as recording the video yet, but did take a little example ‘before and after’ to give an idea of a simple neatening process, cleaning up some white lettering, and some edges.

Finally I tested my cheap lapel mic on the Mac, and it seems to be working fine to record audio for Patreon. I really need to be able to do everything I want to do with my existing equipment and software, so lots of positives today.

Not at all the wasted day I feared it would be this morning, but a long day. Forgive me for not proofreading this!

Night night.

Not Marching Forth (Or Even Fifth)

Thursday 5 March 2020 22:35

I’ve stalled.

I’m floundering in a bit of a depression at the moment. Not managing to do much of anything, just when I need to be ‘up and at ’em’.

Mostly I’m not getting around to drawing until late at night – when I’m tired and the tremor in my right hand is at its worst – like this cafetière that I drew last night. It’s completely wrong of course. My intention was to add watercolour, but having inked in the coffee I was so tired I just carried on with the big fat black pen… 🙄.

Despite the shiny bits being so completely wrong though, each time I’ve looked at it today, I find I’ve grown a little fonder of it. Through no fault of its own it doesn’t look like it should. Like me at the moment (the nasty shingly blistery bumpy painful rash thing is back with a vengeance).

In fact, looking at the drawing now I remember the handle was the bit that I thought would be impossible, and it’s the one bit that pretty much worked.

Sometimes the easy things are hard, and the things you think you’re going to struggle with, aren’t so bad at all.

I need to remember that.

Facing Up To Some Very Old Demons

Monday 2 March 2020 14:00

At noon New York time yesterday, I finally hit the “Launch” button in Patreon. I expected all sorts of interim screens: “Are you sure?” “Absolutely sure?” “Don’t want to phone a friend?” “OK, then first you need to…”. None of that happened, it just burst onto my screen throwing handfuls of confetti and cheering, “Congratulations!! Celebrations are in order!!”.

And a huge weight lifted.

I’d done it. No biggie.

I’d spent the day – several days in truth – listening to a growing crescendo of every negative voice that has ever told me: I’m useless, will never amount to anything, that whatever I do is pointless, that I’m wasting my time, etc etc, By Sunday morning the whispers had become a cacophony that I just couldn’t block out; and I believed them, every single one.

School teachers. Family. ‘Friends’. Lovers. All I could hear were the voices of every person who had had a negative impact on my life (some of whom have been dead for decades!) telling me that no-one – NO-ONE – was ever going to pay one single penny to read anything I had to write.

By yesterday lunchtime I was quite literally pacing the floor. I was getting myself more and more stressed – more than stressed, I was in a full blown panic, over something that I had chosen to do, and knew I could equally choose not to do.

I went for a walk in the woods and along the canal. I was sure that would clear my head and calm me down, but it didn’t really seem to help much, I just got back completely exhausted. Too exhausted, I thought, to make any decisions. I was ready to delay the whole thing, but knew 24 hours wouldn’t of itself assuage the doubts and fears. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, a thought came to me that changed everything.

This year. This blog. Everything that I am doing, is geared towards seeing if I can make a living from writing and drawing. The whole year – of which ten months still remain – is about doing my darndest to make that happen. If I am saying now, that I believe those voices when they say no-one will ever pay to read anything I write – well then I need to get myself down to the Job Centre, because this all stops here. If I really believed that the very thing I’m aiming for is impossible, then I’d never have started this…

It was as if I’d been shaken awake from a troubled dream!

Why would I give up when I’ve barely begun. It’s too early to know whether anyone will ever want to buy anything that I’ve written. It’s up to me to work at my craft until I produce something that they will.

In the meantime, why would I give any power over my life to anyone who doesn’t have my best interests at heart, far less people who aren’t even around now to say, “Hey you know what, we might have been wrong.”?

So I launched my Patreon page yesterday – at noon New York time, in honour of my American friends who celebrate success, not failure; and all those disapproving voices were gone.

What will be will be, but I realised at a minute past noon NY time, that I’d already succeeded when I hit that button. What’s that old saying? Ah yes. “The only real failure, is if you fail to try.”

And as for what happens next, well, we’ll see…

Join 61 Not Out on

Biting The Patreon Bullet

Thursday 27 February 2020 20:30

On Sunday I will be launching my Patreon page, allowing followers to support me, if they wish, with a small monthly amount, and in return get lots of extra updates, videos, drawings and how-to’s.

It’s taken a lot of gentle but firm persuasion by lovely friends who believe this is the right move for me to make, and I understand not everyone will be ‘on board’, and that’s fine. This allows those who would like to offer support, and who are interested in following my journey in greater detail, and learn along with me, to do so in a very easy way.

For those who’ve not heard of Patreon, it describes itself as a membership platform, allowing creators to offer extra content to their supporters in return for a small monthly pledge. You can find out more about it on their website.

This isn’t going to change what I’m doing on this blog – I’ll still be writing about the journey here, but on Patreon I can offer more: extra in-depth posts, videos, how-to’s and drawings.

Importantly too, the support I receive on Patreon will also allow me to continue promoting the Drawing4Health idea. I’d like to work towards setting up a not for profit company that will then mean I can apply for funding to both promote the idea, and to set up more free Drop-in and Draw community spaces around the country, but that takes time and effort and money. I’d like it to be so much more than just one space in a garden.

For some time I’ve enjoyed supporting several other creators on Patreon, and am now looking forward to building my own community on there too.

For those of you who would like to come along, I’ll be adding a link in the sidebar on the left after the launch on Sunday.

Sowing The First Seed

Friday 21 February 2020 22.25

Photo courtesy of space2grow

On Wednesday I met up with the delightful chap who is project managing a community garden not far away, called space2grow. At its core is the wish to provide a space for people who may be facing challenges in their lives, or who need some unwinding time, to simply enjoy being in the outdoors, to have a garden to tend where perhaps they otherwise wouldn’t, to be with other people, forget their problems for a while, chat together, have fun and foster a feeling of community.

This is very much what I’m wanting to do with the Drop-in and Draw spaces. They’re using gardening, my idea uses drawing, but the whole ethos of a free space that is available to everyone, and the fostering of a community by taking part in a gentle, positive, creative pastime is the same.

When I visited on Wednesday, the usual volunteer gardening had been cancelled due to the fact the garden was completely flooded by the nearby stream overnight. The ground had mostly drained by the time I got there, but there had been some disruption and damage. The ground was completely sodden and muddy, most of the plants in their bare winter state, the weather was grey, with a chill wind, and persistent drizzly rain. and the whole area was – quite beautiful.

We had a squelchy wander around and I was blown away by what they’ve done so far, and excited by all they have planned. We chatted for an hour and a half, and I tried to clarify a few details while explaining that at this stage all I had was an idea.

To my absolute joy I came away with the enthusiastic agreement to my setting up the first Drop-in and Draw space for them, based in the beautifully renovated wooden pavilion!

This whole idea of a Drop-in and Draw space stemmed from me having a picture in my mind of a bunch of happy people, quietly working away in a public space, with paper and pens, drawing. My original thought was the unused area that used to be a cafe space in our local shopping centre. It was a practical choice, but far from beautiful. I couldn’t have dreamed of a more beautiful space than this garden and its pavilion.

It’s early days. and when I explained that this is still just an idea and not that i already have a group of people and was just looking for a venue, we agreed it would fit perfectly to simply add the drawing opportunity to what is already on offer to the existing users of the garden, ie the volunteers and other local groups. It’s perfect! And the garden and its surroundings, changing as they do throughout the year, make the perfect subject to draw.

If I can encourage others to, maybe for the first time, pick up a pencil and draw, and if they enjoy doing so and find it beneficial, I shall be very happy.

On the Drawing4Health website I’ve done quite a bit more, in particular adding some of my early drawings as background and featured images. I was hesitating to add current drawings as I felt they wouldn’t give the right impression. It’s important not to make it about producing ‘good’ drawings; it’s about the process and how that is beneficial, not the results. Then I remembered some of my very first sketchbooks from five years ago.

The website is still not launched publicly yet as I want to be more clear – firstly in my own mind, and then literally in the site itself – on the aims and content (for example I’m considering including the prospect of, in time, a growing database of Drop-in and Draw spaces around the country). There are lots of possibilities!

Who’s Driving This Bus?

Monday 17 February 2020 21:35

I think I’m back. After over a fortnight in the grip of some horrible cold virus, today I have at last felt as if I’m on the road to recovery. So time to get back to this; and, er, that.

That, in this case, being the non-earning but important to do from a creative life sustaining kinda way idea of finding somewhere to set up a real life creative space. Or that’s what I thought it was. It seems this idea has bigger ideas for itself.

About a week ago (was it?), not being up to much, I did a bit of searching for a suitable website address, and came up with “Drawing 4 Health”. It wasn’t my first choice, but other domain names had already been taken in some form, and I’ve always followed the premise that it’s wisest not to just choose a different ending (the “” etc bit), because you don’t want potential site visitors being sent to someone else’s site instead. So, it was. And on a redirect, just in case.

That bit was easy. Putting a site together wasn’t, not least because I didn’t really know what I was doing this for or why. It just seemed to want me to do it. Which brings me to a theory you may have heard before: that ideas aren’t ours at all.

The theory (which I fully subscribe to) is that ideas are out there, floating around, looking for someone who they feel might make a good job of turning them into reality. You’ve heard people say that an idea “came” to them; well that’s it exactly. You don’t “have” an idea; an idea “comes” to you, it chooses you. It’s up to you to do your best with it.

And so it is that I find myself listening to this idea (an idea I thought was mine, but I now realise isn’t at all), and doing my best to carry out the instructions it’s giving me.

Like the person sat behind the wheel of a driverless car – I have no idea and no control over where we’re going. It’s all as much a mystery to me as to everyone else what this is, and where it will end up; but I’m enjoying the ride.

Drawing4Health is still very much a work in progress. I wanted to have something out there to give an impression of what this idea is all about, before seeing the people with the lovely garden space, hopefully on Wednesday. In time the site will have proper graphics – for now there are coloured slabs with a bit of text glued on. But I think it’s starting to take shape.

See what you think. But don’t expect me to answer questions, I’m just following instructions…

Surprised To Be Adding A New Category

Tuesday 11 February 2020 22:50

I awoke early this morning with my nose blocked and running (how can noses do both at the same time), sneezing and very fed up! I thought I was on the mend, and I felt worse than ever. Tomorrow my lovely boatyard bosses are taking everyone out for a night of ten-pin bowling and a meal, and it doesn’t look as if I’ll be going.

No! enough of the “Poor Me” post!

My head feeling all bunged up and woozy has meant that writing anything that makes any sense has been out of the question. Ditto doing any sort of planning, or setting stuff up. I just can’t think. I meant to stay in bed today, but the sun was shining, and I figured stretching out on the window seat with sun streaming through the window would be rather nice; so I got up.

Once up and dressed I needed to do something, and I remembered that I still hadn’t even started the shading on a copy of a drawing that I’d drawn the outline for back in December. It was one of my “Studying the Masters” series – a lovely little sketch by Edward Ardizzone, who uses a lot of very loose expressive hatching and crosshatching. It seemed the ideal task for today, slow and methodical.

I was pleased with the result – it’s a copy so not really my work at all, but very helpful in getting into the habit of looking really, really closely at what I’m trying to draw (more important when you’re copying even than drawing from real life), and very very helpful in giving me a lot of practice shading with pen and ink.

Having spent most of the day slowly working at the hatching – all black ink on white paper – I felt almost desperate for a bit of colour. I had a postcard of a puffin by my work table, with a beautiful red and yellow beak. “That’ll do!”

Now, I’m not a painter – don’t have any aspirations to be one; I love to draw. I don’t do painting. I like the idea of using watercolour just to add a bit of colour to a drawing, but that’s a different thing.

But this horrible head cold of mine seems to have done something good for all it’s bloomin’ annoyingness – I’ve drawn more in this last 10 days than I have in a very long time; and this evening, just now, in no time at all and without the slightest hesitation, I painted.

This may not seem at all noteworthy to you, dear reader, but I’m slightly punch drunk here. It’s far from being a masterpiece, but it’s the simple fact that I didn’t even THINK about it – I just got my little watercolour palette out, and I painted it. Like I’d been doing that all my life!

And in order to tell you about it, I’ve had to create a category I didn’t think I’d ever have a need for: “Painting”.

Hah! I can paint (a little bit). Who knew. 🙂

A Trip Down Memory Lanes

Saturday 8 February 2020 18:50

(…and other ramblings from a brain still foggy with flu.)

“Who is that apparently tiny, slim redhead in the picture?” I hear you ask, “It’s not…!”. Ah, read on Macduff…

Although I was, and am still, feeling completely Charlie Romeo, yesterday I decided I was going a bit stir crazy. The car desperately needed to have a run and the sun was shining, and so – probably unwisely – I took a little road trip.

My destination was Seawhite’s Factory Shop, in West Sussex. They’re known as “Seawhite of Brighton”, so I always thought they were in the depths of the city. However, I discovered a couple of weeks ago that in fact they’re on the edge of a tiny village, just an hour’s drive away from me; or so Google Maps told me.

(For those of you who don’t know, Seawhite make really good, affordable, sketchbooks. They sell directly to educational establishments and retail outlets, but their factory shop has loads of reduced stock, and even other art supplies like brushes and paints.)

By pure coincidence, the village where Seawhite are happens to be where some of my ancestors, on mum’s side, were from, and I did think of visiting the churchyard while I was there, but as Google’s estimate of the journey time was rather optimistic, it was not to be.

Anyway, I digress.

How does all this link up to the young ginger haired cyclist on the book cover – and yes, dear reader, ’tis me? Well, the route to Seawhite’s took me along roads and lanes that I haven’t travelled since my cycling days, almost forty years ago. Then they were all very familiar to me, although I confess it was largely the pubs that I recalled, but also the village names; even occasional ordinary landmarks, like gateways and old houses, brought back memories of Sunday rides with dear friends, many of whom are now sadly long gone (one of whom I married!).

On my way home, in another village, slowed to a crawl in a line of cars waiting by some roadworks, I glanced at the boarded up building beside me and was transported back to the day that photo was taken…

But I’m jumping ahead.

I knew that my drive to Seawhite’s would take me along familiar routes, but there were surprises too. One in particular was a now slightly run down roadside diner, that I suddenly recognised as having once been the Little Chef where – one summer’s afternoon – I met up with my mum and my aunt; me on my bike as always then. I remember we spent a lovely couple of hours there, sitting outside in the sunshine chatting, before mum and her sister went on to do some family history research… at the very village I was heading to yesterday.

It was a sweet memory, as were all of them, but as I remembered, I knew I was a very different ‘me’ back then – absolutely no self confidence for one thing, no idea of what lay ahead, full of doubts and fears that seem utterly absurd now. It felt like a lesson: that far more is possible than we sometimes believe, that fears pass, and we can achieve not just the seemingly unachievable, but also the unimaginable.

When I was driving through those lanes yesterday, I thought that I could teach that young, shy me a few things, show her how much her future held. Now I think it’s more likely that she reached back in time and has taught me.

At the time the handbook in the photo was being planned, I was working for what was then called the Cyclists’ Touring Club – now Cycling UK, and the cyclists’ version of the Automobile Association – as their Technical Officer and National Event Organiser, and unofficially, also the Archivist and Historian. Amongst other things I sat on the relevant British Standards Institute committees in London, and was consultant to the Consumer Association on cycling equipment for articles in their Which? magazine. I also tested all manner of equipment on behalf of the CTC (including whole bicycles), and wrote technical articles for the magazine that was available through major newsagents across the country. I organised the annual rally and exhibition based on the Knavesmire Racecourse in York, hosting equipment manufacturers such as Raleigh and other well known names in the cycling world. I was young, quiet, and shy, and lacking in self confidence – but I did all those things; and I forget…

If someone suggested I take on a role like that now I would feel utterly incapable and unqualified. But I’ve sat in a stuffy boardroom and won the arguments for the safety and practicalities of cycle equipment with a bunch of old men in suits who cared only for their profit margins. I’ve organised events attended by thousands. I’ve written articles that were published in a widely read magazine (and I suddenly recall I even illustrated at least one). I’ve even appeared on the cover of a little book sold – albeit briefly – in shops across the land!

Why on earth am I doubting what I can do next?

As I was passing that boarded up pub yesterday, and I remembered the day all those years ago, it made me smile and prompted me to dig out the little handbook in the picture above. On the day of the photo shoot, we – the very tall young man from The Ramblers’ Association and I – were treated to lunch in that pub, and I remembered with a smile that I had been disgruntled to realise that the very smart maroon shorts I’d been given to wear were too tight to allow me to eat! Ah, then as now I enjoyed my food, and to turn down a meal – a free meal at that – completely over rode any excitement I might otherwise have felt at being a ‘cover girl’…

Some things never change. I still have no more need for fame than fortune – comfy clothes and to be treated to a hearty meal now and then, and I’m happy (and to write and draw, and create more happy memories). That’ll do me.

(Oh I would like to get shot of this cold though!)


Tuesday 4 February 2020 21:25

Sorry no posts, but no progress at all for a few days.

Feeling quite poorly, and mostly in bed or wrapped in a blanket on the window seat.

I did hear back from the people with the perfect space for a creative space, and could have seen them tomorrow, but I don’t think I’ll be well enough and don’t want to pass this on. Next Wednesday then, hopefully.

Haven’t even managed to do a shaded or watercoloured version of Saturday’s drawing, although I have made one copy using my light pad.

Rest is important, I know, but I don’t like this ‘zonked out’ feeling one bit.