Dartmoor Summer 2020

After nearly four months of Lockdown in the city, I jumped at the first chance to visit my co-author Philip Reeve and his family on Dartmoor. It was a combination work-health-pleasure trip: we did get quite a bit of work done on the fourth Kevin book, I got a whole lot of exercise I hadn't been getting while sitting around in London... and Dartmoor's just always fantastic.

I'd been doing some tree drawing in my local parks, but there's nothing like sitting in the middle of a Dartmoor wood to work on an experimental painting. (I ended up working on this one in Philip's studio, and then finishing it up back in London.)

Well, until it starts raining.

I had blazing sun for the first half of drawing this, then rain...

...but I managed to shield my sketchbook under my jacket and stick it out to the end.

On one of the days, I went tree drawing with Philip.

Check out his finished drawing, it's amazing. The mossy trees on Dartmoor really make me feel like I'm in Middle Earth.

Speaking of which, Philip has been posting some great blog articles on Lord of the Rings, informally jotting down his thoughts as he read through it for his umpteenth time. You can read them all here. I've read the books and listened to the BBC dramatisation version so many times I can't even count, but reading Philip's blog still gave me new reflections on them.

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little paintings: mouse ship

Everything in publishing these last few months has been a bit odd, to say the least. Bookshops shut, book distributors shut, postal disruptions, events, cancelled, publishing teams working remotely, publishers being extra cautious, writers and illustrators trying to work while homeschooling children... the list goes on. I'd planned a gap in my book schedule to do a sabbatical art study trip in Nepal, which Covid made impossible, so I had a bit of time, suddenly, just to draw and paint. And since I wasn't earning money from a book, I thought I'd try to sell some work. I've had some bad experiences of donating art to charity auctions and it not selling for very much (poor publicity from organisers? bad art on my part? too many other famous names in the auction pool?). So I assumed people wouldn't want to buy much. But, happily, I was wrong!

Besides it paying for groceries and stuff, it's been fun. There's something really refreshing about painting whatever I like and before the paint's even fully dry, selling it via Twitter (and occasionally Instagram). I don't have to send rough drafts back and forth, or wait half a year or a year for the publishing engines to churn, or do a whole follow-up publicity campaign... I just paint it and sell it.

I've had a few people get in touch about commissions, but that's not quite the same: there's a big difference creatively between painting something that really interests me and that I want to explore, and painting something to someone else's brief, trying to capture what's in their head. (A few people were willing to pay far, far more for commissioned art work, so I have made a few exceptions, but I really like doing these one-off free-form paintings.) And if I start promising pictures to people in advance, that also puts me under pressure that I don't have to deal with if I simply finish a painting and post it.

It's so fun simply to play with pictures and see what happens.

Don't Call Me Grumpycorn: Fab Planet Competition Prizes!

For the launch of my Grumpycorn-sequel picture book Don't Call Me Grumpycorn, Scholastic UK and I set up a competition to see who could design the most Fablous Planet. The prize was a portrait with Grumpycorn in space, and Alec Anderson won the top prize! Here is is on Spaghetti Moon (which orbits around the planet he created), with his little sister and her favourite Piggy toy (by request). You can see Alec's entry here, plus a gallery of all the other great drawings.

But the quality of entries was so high that I made an exception, only for this competition, and said I'd make portraits for everyone who took part. That kept me busy for awhile!

But it seems to have been worth it; the pictures have been arriving and I've been getting lovely messages from the pleased recipient. Here's Callie's - I customised hers a bit more because she wrote and illustrated a WHOLE AMAZING BOOK after watching my Grumpycorn video: you can see the pages of her book Icecreamcorn here.

It really is great to see all these young artists I've been drawing!

If you missed the competition, there's still a Grumpycorn video about drawing a Fabulous Planet here, which could be simply done for fun, or used as a school project a teacher's looking for material.

Thanks again to everyone who took part and put so much work into their entries! And thanks to Scholastic for their support, and Page 45 bookshop for hosting book sales! If you want to find more free Grumpycorn or Don't Call Me Grumpycorn activities, check out my web pages here.

#DrawingWithSarah: Design a Mermaid Space Cruiser!

Join me for another Don't Call Me Grumpycorn-themed drawing challenge. This time it features Mermaid!

Let's give Mermaid and her underwater friends a fun way to cruise through space together.

I have a lot of fun with these videos, taking you outside of the pages of the book. Unicorn, Mermaid, Narwhal and Jellyfish go into space, but I love thinking about what else they might have got up to while there were there. For the book launch, I designed the International Unicorn Space station and interviewed the four main characters about the jobs they might have up there. It was a lot of fun imagining Mermaid's sea tanks. You can see all the #DrawingWithSarah here on YouTube!

First in, from New Zealand! Watch the whole #DrawWithRudra video here on YouTube.

#DrawingWithSarah: Draw Jellyfish with her Ukulele!

Today's #DrawingWithSarah video features Jellyfish, who I think has become my favourite character in Don't Call Me Grumpycorn. Jellyfish comes across as quite silly, but she's the one who understands that home isn't where everyone is the same as you, it's where you can be with the people who love you.

Jellyfish's stripes fade on his legs when he's doing animation work... it's just a little quirk of pigmentation. I had a lot of fun making this animation, deepest apologies to David Bowie.

You can read a review of Don't Call Me Grumpycorn over on Page 45's website, and I have lots more activities on the book's web page.

You can also watch Taron Egerton (the star of Rocketman, who plays Elton John) reading the first Grumpycorn book over on Save the Children UK's Instagram page, where they're raising money for children most impacted by the Covid pandemic.

Grumpycorn's Fabulous Planet Competition results!

And the final results are in... we had 19 absolutely fantastic artists submit their work. I was really impressed by their focus and use of colours, everyone did a brilliant job.

One entry stood out as the most original, with its creative details, and even some well-placed collage; it's a picture I can look at for quite some time and still find interesting things to pick out. And every area of the planet looks like it could inspire its own story... What would happen if I ventured into the Great Pine Woods and met the Snuff-trolls? Or crossed The Dunes, dodging the Sphinx, to enter The Sacred Pyramid of Queeor? And if I went to the Milkshake Lake, would those bendy-straw Loch Milkshake monsters be able to provide me with my favourite milkshake flavour (which happens to be lime)? And what time is it when Spaghetti Moon sets over the Ice-cream Ice-caps? What would happen if I got caught there after dark by warriors from the waffle-cone tribe?

First prize goes to Alec Anderson (@CFcomix on Twitter). Congratulations, Alec!

BUT... there was such a wide spread of ages and everyone did so well, that I'm going to change the prize a little bit. I'm going to draw a picture of Alec with Unicorn in space, but I'm also going to do the same for every single person who entered. (Family groups, if I could post yours together, that would save some postage!) I'll be in touch with you, and you'll need to:

* Choose who you would like in your picture with Unicorn (you or someone in your family) and e-mail me a photo of them (sarah at jabberworks dot co dot uk)
* Let me know a postal address to send your picture prize

I have four runners up I'd like to mention: Here's Caleb's, and I love the way he's set off his planet against a bold black background. It makes for a strong poster effect, and the details on the planet are a lot of fun - Grumpycorn island with its little bridge in the middle, a cosy Narwhal Sea Mound and a Mermaid Lake with a submarine just large enough to be visible.

Six-year-old Gabriela's planet is bold with bits sticking off it in wonderfully zany ways that makes it a lot of fun to look at. The colour-block shapes remind me a little bit of some of Vassily Kandinsky's early work. Love it!

Five-year-old Elliott's Jellyfish Planet looks like a wonderful bowl of sweets with its vivid shapes and colours. And the colourful bubble writing at the bottom is ace!

Finally, eight-year-old Leela has chosen strong colours and shapes for her planet, and the textured coloured pencil strokes give it some great energy.

Honestly, I wasn't planning to give prizes to everyone, but you did such a great job that you made this happen. Thank you for putting so much time and thought into your drawings!

See the full gallery of drawings in this earlier blog post. And find more Don't Call Me Grumpycorn activities over on my website!