Saturday Family Portraits

Harbourside portrait detail

My friend Lisa was talking about gratitude this morning, about stopping and being thankful for the ordinary things  we have.

A few weeks ago I drew Lisa and her family in their living room on a wettish Saturday afternoon. Three of them played Destination Hogwarts – the fourth stayed on his device on the sofa most of the time, although to be fair he was joining in with Uno later on. This is the family portrait I put together from those sketches. I’m not as good as Grayson Perry at including cultural references we’ll all recognise, but Lisa and her family will hopefully recognise all the familiar bits and bobs around them in this picture. Maybe it’s a good way to count your blessings – your children, cats, board games, family heirlooms, cushions, and console games.

Family portrait with games and cats

The next Saturday was a bit brighter, and I met Victoria and Marcos by The Cottage Inn to sketch a family portrait for Marcos’ 40th birthday. They wanted to show the kind of Saturday family activity they enjoy, so the kids brought their bikes and co-operatively cycled round and round in circles while their parents enjoyed a rather early pint of cider and I tried to draw everyone.

Like some kind of carefully staged Bristol tourist video, though, it was all happening on the water. There were dragon boat races going on with teams from all over the country. The Matthew (Bristol’s replica of the 15th Century Caravel in which John Cabot sailed to Newfoundland) passed by full of pirates, so did the 1935 diesel tug  John King, and so did the Bristol Ferry Brigantia with Gromit at the helm. There was so much to see, we let Oliver and Sophie put their bikes down and watch from the railings.

Harbourside portrait in frame

If you have an interesting idea for a family portrait, then do get in touch for a chat.

(Fun fact: The two cats in the indoor portrait are also called Ollie and Sophie!)

Winter wedding in Yatton

Ruth sketching at St Marys

It’s been 10 years now since it dawned on me that being in the middle of something important helps me to draw. I’d probably make a good war artist if the opportunity arose.

Weddings are very different of course, but they do provide an environment where there’s a critical mass of emotion, excitement, and a sense of shared purpose.


I feel so privileged when I’m invited to sketch at one and share the joy of so many people I’ve never met before.

This is Jo and Ian, who were married at St. Mary’s Church, Yatton, where Jo is the Curate.


St. Mary’s Church, which dates mostly from the 15th Century, was a beautiful setting, although I have to admit I struggled with the long lines of some of the gothic pillars and arches. Straight lines are not my thing!



I usually create one large cmposition from the day’s sketches.  It’s rare that the wedding service or ceremony itself becomes the subject of this, because there is much less time to draw than during the drinks reception or wedding breakfast. In this case, however, I had an excellent vantage point at the front and plenty of time, and I knew that Jo would like a picture set in the church where she is completing her ministry training.

drawing of Ian and Jo

The process of putting the different parts of the illustration together, editing, and then colouring them, is done using photoshop, and so the final piece is a giclee print, which I get done at Niche Frames in Stokes Croft, Bristol.



Jo and Ian’s picture is now with them for framing. If you’re interested in commissioning sketching for a wedding, party, conference, or any special event, please get in touch for a chat.





Wedding Sketching Gallery

I’ve created a little gallery of the different kinds of images that I can develop from wedding sketchbooks.

Click on any image to see a larger view.

Usually, the couple want a large composition with as many friends and family in as possible, and sometimes a smaller image for their thank you cards or to give as a thank you gift. Other members of the family can then put in their own orders – from a picture of a single toddler, to a large composition of their own. I create these by scanning, editing, and then colouring, the sketchbook pages.

Find out more about wedding sketching on this page.

WEBA Christmas Cards

Those of you who like your Christmas cards a bit Biblical might like to know that you can now get these four Christmas cards in a pack of 8 (2 of each design) for just £5. The four designs are sketches I’ve done in Bath, Bristol, Calne, and Clevedon over the last four years for our work Christmas card at WEBA, and the verses are all about the incarnation, God coming to earth, but they’re not so much the ones that get over-used at Christmas.

We’re selling them in aid of Home Mission, and you won’t get cheaper cards from me under any other circumstances anywhere. They’re on top quality 300gsm stock and come complete with envelopes. I have carefully inserted each set into a very compact cellophane sleeve myself.  Contact me if you’re interested; postage is £1.50 extra.

Four christmas card designs

Three Weddings and a Live Sketcher

Phew! I’ve been locked out of my website for a while. It’s good to be back.

I’ve been at a few weddings this year, some of them commissions, some of them sketching surreptitiously in a pew.

This is Kelly and Steve, who got married at my church in July. Kelly is one of the happiest , positive, and ready to dance people I know, and it’s obvious how Steve appreciates her.

Kelly and Steve

Peter and June got married at our church earlier in the year, finally making a very special family ‘official’,  and this sketch has been sitting around waiting for colour since then:

June and Peter


Chris and Sarah’s wedding was probably the most relaxed one I’ve been to, and involved lots of wellies, toddlers, dogs, and paddling. At the end of the day I realised there had been very little opportunity to draw the two of them together, so I got them to sit down for a minute with their drinks.

Chris and Sarah

Finally, at the wedding I sketched at on Sunday, which you’ll see more of soon, there was another live sketcher lurking and this is her drawing of me! Maxine is the creator and if you’re looking for a live sketcher in or near Manchester I’m sure she could help you. More about my wedding sketching service here.



Fred and Rita

Fred and Rita dance test

One reason why I haven’t posted anything for a while is that I’ve bought my first graphics tablet.

This is something I’ve wondered about, and sometimes resisted, for about twenty years. Recently, however, I’ve been commissioned to produce a short animated explanation for the people I work for four days a week. I wanted to take this opportunity to experiment with animating in my natural, rough, sketchy drawing style, and I knew the tablet could potentially make this possible.

I work for a network of Baptist churches in the West of England, and together with our neighbouring Associations, we want to share the idea of what’s possible through Partnership. The idea of Great Partnerships became part of this, and that gave me the perfect excuse to try drawing what I could never hope to do in real life: dance like Fred and Ginger.

Or, in this case, Fred and Rita, because the moves above are roughly based on a scene from You Were Never Lovelier starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth.

Kind of. Because I’m just practising, and I’m using 6 frames a second to try to save time. That means you’re seeing only a quarter of the pictures per second that you’d see in a Disney film. It does take a ridiculous amount of time, but I do love it. I’m going to get back to it now.


A Goodbye Plate

Today I was at a community tea to say goodbye to our minister Laurie and his wife Karen. They’ve been at our church ten and a half years and it’s been brilliant. They’re leaving a happy group of people, doubled in size, with a wide range of ages and cultures and broad links to the local community.

My excuse for posting this on my illustration blog is the blue glass plate that I got to design for Laurie and Karen.

blue plate

Many years ago, I saw a photography exhibition that included a photograph of the congregation of St James Picadilly gathered in one of the aisles. I had an idea that we could take a similar photo at tbc, to put on a sign outside showing that there were friendly human beings inside. One teatime, while hosting at least two extra children, I managed to scribble a sketch of the kind of thing I meant, to take to a church meeting that evening. The church thought the sketch would do as well as a photo, and that sketch has been on the sign outside our church ever since.

original tbc illustration

For this 30cm blue plate, I had a go at updating it, reflecting the way the church has grown and including some different people – although there was no way I could fit everyone in. I had to work from photos, which I normally refuse to do. Just sometimes, though, when the purpose of what I’m drawing and my connection to the people I’m drawing is strong enough, I get away with it. The figures end up a bit more stilted, but hopefully the overall effect is still one of joy and community, even in silver on blue.


Fancy a walk by the river?

Most of the illustration I do involves scribbling with a pen on paper, but not all.


Just for a change, I thought I’d post some walking maps I worked on with Environmental Education and Interpretation Specialist Ruth Coleman last year.


This involved lots of sitting in front of a computer but also a certain amount of getting lost and stung by nettles.


The maps were produced by the WaterSpace Project, a partnership between  B&NES Council, the Canal and River Trust, the Environment Agency and Wessex Water in collaboration with The Bath Mayor’s Guides, the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, the Avon Frome Partnership and Mike Chapman.

If you fancy a walk this half term, you can download all three maps on this page of the River Avon Trail website.

A Day in the Life of…a Primary School

Headley Park Primary School in South Bristol have given me permission to share these sketches of school life on the 30th November 2016.

Year 1 classroom

Year 1 classroom

Many thanks to Louise who had the idea of asking me to spend a day there, and to all the classes who didn’t mind me wandering in and drawing.

Brushing Leaves

Brushing leaves

To be honest I was surprised and impressed by the wide range of things these children were learning on one day, from playing harmonies on the steel drums to extracting the lens from a cow’s eyeball.


Year 6 dissect an eyeball

There’s a certain magic formula that enables me to draw well – a community of people gathered together for a common positive purpose.

Steel drum lesson

Steel drum lesson

It’s easy to forget that, despite all the stresses and strains of education, that seem to be continually on the increase, this magic is happening every day in our schools.

School office

School office

Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss organising a day of live sketching where you work.



Destination Bethlehem

Actors and visitors at Destination Bethlehem

On Saturday I went to Clevedon Baptist Church to sketch at ‘Destination Bethlehem’ for the Christmas card we’ll send out at work. I work at the West of England Baptist Association and we’re trying to feature a different one of our churches each Christmas. Destination Bethlehem was a magnificent immersive nativity experience – and a complete sell-out, I believe. Guests lucky enough to get a ticket, and also a large number of school children during the week, were taken through a labyrinth of Nativity story sets, and had the opportunity to bake real bread, be shouted at by Herod, chat with some Bristolian shepherds, haggle in a Bethlehem market, and finally meet the baby in the manger. I got to put on a costume, crouch in the corner on the way to the stable, and draw what I saw.

My drawing reminds me a little bit of Helen Oxenbury’s illustrations in We’re going on a bear hunt. I so much wanted to draw like Helen Oxenbury when I was fourteen, and I never will, but perhaps it’s the colours in this, or the way they’re all moving gently and hesitantly towards the baby they know is the culmination of their quest.

My reading of the Bear Hunt story (which will be an animated special on Channel 4 this Christmas) was always that the family wanted a fun adventure together with lots of actions  but that it preferably wouldn’t involve an actual live bear. We see the bear herself at the end, lonely in the moonlight, unable to play with the family who came to seek her. Bears, after all, are real, and they’re not exactly safe.

The baby in my picture is, of course, a plastic doll. I think Christians are probably very accustomed to play-acting. We do it all the time.  But however much we act makes no difference at all to whether the person represented by the doll, Emmanuel, God-with-us, is actually real, and actually with us.