How to fit a whole day into one picture

The framed print ready to hang

It’s that time of year again! I’m organising my show for Art on the Hill this coming weekend, 6th-7th October.

This year I’m especially grateful to Emily and Matt who have let me hold on to the framed composition of their wedding to show at the trail. It was the first of five weddings I sketched this summer.

Emily is a wedding photographer herself and she and Matt have a uniquely creative approach which was demonstrated by the way they could see that a 1950s school assembly hall would make a beautiful venue for their reception.

Normally, I fill a sketchbook during a wedding day and then the couple decide which scene they’d like for their final composition – the ceremony, the meal, the speeches, or perhaps a scene of everyone mingling and chatting. Emily and Matt came up with the idea of starting with the wedding vows at the left and moving through to the speeches and the queue for the fish and chip van who fed us all at the right hand side. This sounded like fun, but rather long and thin, so I came up with the idea of putting some parts of the day – groups posing for photos and the queue for fish and chips – outside the school hall’s large floor to ceiling windows. The raised area where I stood to sketch became the front of Counterslip Baptist Church where Emily and Matt were married.

Detail from the same print

I love the fact that you can find Matt and Emily three times within this final composition. I’m also pleased with the layers of colour. I struggled for a long time to put colour on such a busy scene. Too many distinctive colour blocks can wreck a fine network of sketched lines too easily, destroying its unity and its complexity. After lots of experiments, I duplicated some of my colour layers, rotating and moving them so that patterns and colour elements are repeated, drawing the whole scene together and adding to the sense of busy excitement that is exactly what I remember from the day.

If you’re local do come and have a look this weekend – details of the trail at


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!)

Drawing people

This morning at my church we did something a bit different – set out the hall with tables and invited adults to bring along something they do during the week. I put all my slightly past it fineliners on a table and invited people to have a go at ‘live sketching’ others in the room. The outcome, perhaps, is predictable – two or three adults had a go, talked about art at school, and then gave up, while a whole group of children got stuck in and were still drawing when lunch came out later. I don’t really know why it’s like that. I feel convinced that, given enough time, everyone would find a way of drawing that would work for them. Am I right?

Anyway, these children were able to get straight on and using just a few marks produce recognisable impressions of the people around us.

Thanks to those who let me post them here!

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.

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.



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.



The Whos down in Who-ville

This is a work in progress from Carols in Perrett’s Park just before Christmas. It put me in mind of a rhyme and set my mind on a slightly more positive course this New Year’s Day.

Colours will be added soon!

Carol Singing in Perretts Park with view of Bristol



They’d do something he liked least of all!

Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,

Would stand close together, with Christmas bells ringing.

They’d stand hand in hand. And the Whos would start singing!

They’d sing! And they’d sing! And they’d SING! SING! SING! SING!

And the more the Grinch thought of this Who-Christmas Sing, the more the Grinch thought, “I must stop this whole thing!

“Why, for fifty-three years I’ve put up with it now! I MUST stop this Christmas from coming! But HOW?

from How the Grinch stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

Front Room Art Trail 2016

Choral wrapping paper

For the 10th year running (!) I shall be part of the Front Room at tbc (Totterdown Art Trail) exhibition during the Totterdown Art Trail next weekend. I’ll have lots of prints on show as usual, and some greetings cards, but for the first time I’ve had wrapping paper printed!

This design is based on sketches of the Brahms Requiem concert at St Michael and All Angels Church, Windmill Hill, on the 2nd October, with the Windmill Hill Chorus and Orchestra, Conductor Mark Randall, Soprano Helen Roberts, and Baritone Martin Le Poivedin. I’ve been to several of these concerts which always coincide with the Art on the Hill trail, so I’m always exhausted, but they’re always amazing. Such a tiny community putting on its own orchestral concert is remarkable in itself, but after Handel’s Messiah and Mozart’s Requiem I did kind of wonder whether this could match up. It did – the chorus and orchestra produced what I can only describe as a wall of sound – different as it may be from the Spector version. It was all encompassing and engrossing and kept me scribbling until I’d drawn almost every singer and musician. Since then, I have to admit, I’ve saved Brahms Requiem on Spotify, and with this week’s news, I’ve found its sombre tone has fitted the mood especially well.

My normal method, once I get the sketches home, is to scan them and create a composition. Usually I try to include some context for the people I’m drawing — buildings, roads, trees, horizon, etc, and these give structure to the composition. This time I just had a bulging spread of people that didn’t quite work on its own. At the same time, I’d noticed that the printing company I use for cards was offering to print wrapping paper.  I wondered whether any of my images would work as a repeating pattern, and tried copying and pasting these musicians around an A2 canvas. The result felt like the concert itself, evoking that mass of harmony.

So I’m offering this work as ‘Choral wrapping paper’ – it’s going to be a very inexpensive way to get buy one of my prints, at just £3.50 a sheet, and would make excellent gift wrap for a friend in a choir!

Christmas cards

I’ve also had plenty of Christmas cards printed – using the image of Carol Singing in Victoria Park a couple of years ago. If you can’t get to Front Room, and would like some of these, please let me know. They are £2 each, or I’m willing to sell 10 for £15.

I’ll be in the Jarman Hall at the back of Totterdown Baptist Church, Sydenham Road, from 12 to 6 on Saturday 19th November and 12 to 5 on Sunday 20th November. Hope to see you there.

Twelve Portraits

12 Portraits

I didn’t manage to visit the David Hockney Exhibition 82 Portraits and 1 Still Life, but I enjoyed looking at the book while visiting friends recently.

However, I did get to do some sketchy portraits of my own. While I was drawing at Redcatch Arts in the Park in September, I made contact with a local care home who asked me to spend a day sketching their residents. I’m used to sitting in a corner and sketching whatever is happening, but they clearly wanted individual images of each of the 12 residents, many of them in wheelchairs and most of them not able to communicate with words. So it was a big privilege, and a very special time, sitting with each resident either in their room or a lounge and drawing them with much more time than I usually get when sketching events.

They’ll use the images, perhaps for greetings cards in the future. I hope these drawings bless these individuals and their families and friends as much as I was blessed by my time with them.

There are no names at the request of the home.

Twelve Portraits