skill and stamina and luck

warlock of firetop mountain

A couple of older digital drawings I did back in the summer time that I don’t think I ever posted, but now’s as good a time as ever. The drawing above is of ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain‘ by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. I got this book for my eighth birthday as a present from my big sister, and not only do I still have it but I still have all of my old Fighting Fantasy gamebooks from when I was a kid (see below). 2021 was the fortieth anniversary of its publication, and my one is one of the great editions with the famous green spine. If you have never played an adventure gamebook, “you are the hero”/”choose your own adventure” style, these ones were very cleverly formatted – almost always 400 entries – with a simple but effective gaming system. You don’t have overly complicated D&D style numbers, this is single player, two six-sided dice like everyone could get from their Monopoly set, you roll for a score for Skill, another for Stamina, another for Luck, and then you just get on with the story. You have provisions, you have some gold, and you have an ‘Adventure Sheet’ where you can list equipment that you pick up along the way – your sword, a few potions, the odd jewel, maybe the occasional scroll with important clues. As you go through the story you have to make decisions – go left or go right, stay at the inn or sleep in the woods, sneak past the orc guards or steal their keys, turn to 239, that sort of thing – but you also have to fight. It’s called ‘Fighting Fantasy’ after all, though running away is sometimes an option. Fighting is done on the roll of the dice and you might lose ‘stamina’ if your opponent gets hits on you. That opponent might be a Goblin, a Dragon, a a Giant Bat, anything really. In this book you have to go on an adventure to go and beat up a wizard – the Warlock of Firetop Mountain – there’s a fantastic colour hand-drawn map in my edition which very much informed how I like to draw maps later in life. The illustrations in these books was one of the things I liked the most, especially the heavy-lined drawings found in Caverns of the Snow Witch, which was always my favourite (along with Creature of Havoc), although I left my original copy of that back in London with my nephew (I’d like to get it back to go with the set some day). I drew this on the iPad with ProCreate, and posted it online, and to my amazement I was then sent a message by none other than the author himself, Ian Livingstone! And he said he liked it. I was fairly gobsmacked.

Or I should say ‘Sir Ian Livingstone’ – he was knighted in the New Years Honours list earlier this month! That is a great achievement and recognition for all his many years of pioneering work in the British gaming industry. He co-founded Games Workshop along with Steve Jackson and has done enormous work in the video gaming world. He did ask if I’d be drawing Forest of Doom next (that one has a great cover of a shape-shifter), but instead I showed him my bookshelf drawing from the previous month. There you can see what remains of my collection of Fighting Fantasy books (I don’t have a complete set, and two or three of mine are missing such as Caverns of the Snow Witch and Citadel of Chaos) (though I do have a copy of Caverns of the Snow Witch in French). After getting that first book from my sister, I would usually seek out these books in the local library, but then I would find them in the bookshops, but if I couldn’t afford to buy many books I would go to second hand bookshops all over the area to scour for copies of them. I displayed them proudly on my shelf at home, and on my windowsill, which didn’t help with the spines getting a bit discoloured. Although that is now a funny story, I assumed that the slightly different shades of green on all these books was due to some being in boxes in old shops, or left in the sun on my windowsill, but it turns out that it was an issue with the publishers; Sir Ian actually told me that himself, it used to annoy him that they’d be inconsistent with the green, and he appreciated that I’d captured that in my drawing! I would share the books with my friends at school, and we would get together and create our own games, using the same Fighting Fantasy gaming system. I would typically come up with the story and the setting (because I loved to draw maps and create worlds) rather than use anything pre-designed, and I created an entire world to set the stories in (it was called ‘Landica’; the name actually came from an attempt when I was 12 to create a new language called ‘Landic’ – this is what I was like at 12 – though I didn’t use the language in the games). Some of them were fun, we would use the big multi-coloured dice I would find at gaming shops, I still have many of the ones I got back then, kept like coloured plastic gems. We never did play more complicated games like Dungeons and Dragons or Warhammer, and I regret that a little, but I always liked to keep it simple. I was always a bit intimidated by Dungeons and Dragons if I’m honest, but I obsessed over the world of Fighting Fantasy, spending ages drawing swords and orcs and maps. I did write two full (though not super long) single-player gamebooks, hand-written and long enough to fit into a classic school exercise book: ‘The Sorceror of the Swamp‘ and ‘Trek to Terror Tower‘. I filled my world with places named after obscure languages (my other obsession, looking up all of the languages of the world), or constellations, or even interesting foreign surnames I’d heard. It was a fun creative time, but I was always frustrated with myself for rarely completing ideas. I tried many times to write longer, more complicated and intelligent stories, but that’s me all over, a million ideas, only so much time. But a lot of reading, a lot of imagination and inspiration, and a lot of fantastic memories.

Bedroom iPad 073021

And yet, as you can see right above this collection of gamebooks, on the top shelf are my sketchbooks. These are The Sketchbooks, the main landscape format ones I use, a collection of Moleskine or Stillman & Birn or Seawhite of Brighton, going from number 1 – 40 (some of them are facing a different direction). You can see all the contents of those on my sketchbooks page. Those books go back to 2007 and represent quite a lot of creative output, so I guess I do occasionally complete artistic projects huh. Though my life’s sketching work is never really finished. That quest does not end here…

the bedroom days

bedroom office
A couple more on the iPad drawn in the bedroom, or the Bedroom Office as it now is. Both drawn before we got our living room back (which was over the weekend, hooray!) so this was also the dining room and watching tv room. It’s also where I draw and write (haha, I hardly ever write at the moment), and it would be where I do my Lego animations but I’ve not done those in a while either. I felt like installing a running track around the bed and using it as a gym too. With all stuff from downstairs shelves all over the floor it would have been more like a hurdle track. Ah well, it’s where we are right now. I notice from some of my fellow sketchers in Europe that things are slowly beginning to open up there, and I think that they will here too soon, but extremely cautiously. Well most of us, some aren’t. I also can’t wait for the shelter-in-place to be over, because then the walking and running paths around here might not be so busy, people might stay in more. I don’t know, I want to go places, get on a train and wander about the City, but I don’t know how we’ll all feel. I have a nice mask. Lately I’ve been obsessed with the idea of going on week-long hikes along the national trails of England, as if that should ever happen. I used to think about that sort of thing when I was young but never got around to it, except my time in Cumbria when I was 17 doing the Outward Bound thing. In the meantime, stay at home, it’s very hot outside again in California. These two sketches were done on the iPad, sat on the bed, the one below while watching Revenge of the Sith (I do love ‘Sith’, one of my favourite films), the one above while monitoring an online seminar/workshop for our department. The bookshelf was moved from downstairs during the flood but I am going to keep it there as I like having books close by my bed. I have already moved the dvd shelf downstairs and replaced it with my old collection of Fighting Fantasy books. And right now, I’m watching the Bundesliga, as football has returned to Germany, albeit in empty stadiums. Unlike the quiet first round of games, the Dortmund-Bayern game has crowd noise pumped in, and the tv cameras are angled to show as little of the empty stands as possible. I’ve watched so many old World Cup games lately it is nice to watch some actual real new games. I feel like a teenager again, when I would rarely leave my room, just stay in there drawing and watching football or Star Wars or reading. Still on top of the recent flood which left us without a living room for a month, one of the cats got sick and was in hospital a couple of times, he’s recovering now the poor thing, but he did wee all over my side of the bed one night. Go home 2020 you are drunk! One thing all of this disruption and time at home has given me is time to go through things and organize stuff, get rid of what I don’t need, and one day I might get started on that.
in the bedroom

In the meantime I’ll draw round the house. Tomorrow our local sketching thing Let’s Draw Davis will have a virtual get-together, less of a sketchcrawl and more just the show and tell bit, showing what we have drawn while stuck at home during this whole thing. I had an idea over the weekend that I might put a video together of my stay-home sketches, and the I thought I could do a series of YouTube videos giving a tour of Davis through my sketches, focusing on a different area or theme each time, make about 8-10 of them. Summer project.

My book in Chinese (and French)!

5 min sketching Chinese

Last week I got a nice surprise in the post, a copy of my 2016 book “5 Minute People Sketching”, newly translated into Chinese. (I don’t get anything extra for that unfortunately, apart from a single free copy). I can’t read it, but my Chinese speaking friends showed me where my name is, and that is the first time I’ve seen my name in Chinese, which gave me a thrill. This is the second language other than English that my books have been published in. While I was in Belgium last summer I did manage to find both of the other ones in French: “L’Art Du Croquis”, on the shelf there, and “5 Minutes Pour Dessiner Les Gens”, which I was happy to find in a huge bookstore in Brussels. It was funny to come back to Belgium two decades after my year living there to find my name on a shelf. I wouldn’t have expected that back then. I definitely wouldn’t have expected to see my work published in Chinese too! That was one nice surprise among all this madness going on right now. Maybe I need to be spending some of this time stuck at home writing another book, maybe the long-talked-about sketchbook about Davis. I should have enough drawings to in it…


ich liebe dictionaries

swedish berlitz dictionary

I don’t remember how old I was when I first discovered foreign languages. My older sister went on an exchange visit to Stuttgart, Germany, when she was fifteen, so I would have been around six years old when she came back, introducing me to Nutella, and to the German phrase “ich liebe dich”. Although I went to a school full of kids from different countries, if I ever heard other languages it would have been as an impenetrable barrier, not something that I could actually learn. Thanks to my big sister and her travels, I now knew a foreign phrase and could say it, “ich liebe dich”, “I love you”. She probably learned it from a boy that she met. I like to think that “ich liebe dich” was a good place to start.

I didn’t really think much about foreign languages again, until I got the Mexico 86 Panini World Cup sticker album. As a ten year old boy, I was obsessed with football. It’s all I would talk about, think about, dream about (I was pretty much over Transformers by this point). Swapping stickers on the school playground was the highlight of the day. What I really liked about the Mexico 86 Panini World Cup sticker album, apart from all the funny names and wacky beards (I’m looking at you, Hungarian goalkeeper Peter Disztl), was that there was a list of every country, even those who did not qualify, in its own language. It was a list of exotic lands like ‘Deutschland BRD’, ‘Magyarország’, ‘Shqipëria’, and the confusing ‘Helvetia’. Some were almost like the name in English, just a little different, such as ‘Brasil’, ‘Turkiye’, ‘Italia’, ‘Danmark’. The countries themselves were not alien to me. I had been reading Atlases since I could read, and used to draw maps of the world for fun, but seeing them listed in their own languages was mind-blowing. And then, in the middle of the World Cup, my family and some of our neighbours all went on a package trip to sunny Spain.

It was my first time outside England. I had been to Norwich, which doesn’t look far on the map but actually takes ages to get to, and linguistic differences only stretched as far as my cousin saying “int’ it!” instead of “innit!”. To prepare for this foreign adventure I bought myself a Spanish phrase book from the Salvage Shop in Burnt Oak. The Salvage Shop was the most exciting place in town, you could get anything there. Well they had some cheap phrase books and I spent whatever it was, 50p maybe, and suddenly a new world opened up. It included a smattering of Spanish phrases, but was mostly a word-to-word dictionary. Naturally, my friend and I went through the book looking for the ‘funny’ words. It didn’t include any swear words, more’s the pity, nor any words like ‘fart’ or ‘bum’, but it did include the hugely hilarious words for ‘drunk’ (‘borracho’) and ‘hangover’ (‘resaca’). We knew full well what those words meant in English having observed our parents at parties over the years, and in fact on the first night in Spain, our dads went out and got quite ‘borracho’ indeed, very much ‘resaca’ the next day. In fact my mum locked my dad out of the apartment as a result, meaning he spent the first night in Spain sleeping on the sunbed by the pool.  If any Spanish locals were not familiar with English swear words before that night they were probably quite familiar with them afterwards. Dad would always tell me that those swear words were also a different language, ‘Anglo-Saxon’, and for a few years afterwards I probably still believed that. Apart from ‘borracho’ and ‘resaca’ I must admit I didn’t pick very much else up, except for a few numbers, the Spanish word for toilets (‘lavabos’ and ‘aseos’, because of course we looked those up), and the incredible discovery that some chocolate bars have different names in other countries, such as ‘Raider’ (foreign for ‘Twix’), and ‘Snickers’ (foreign for ‘Marathon’; that will never catch on, I said at the time).

I never did learn Spanish, in fact, despite going back to Spain for every single remaining summer of the 1980s. Holiday resort Spain isn’t really Spain, though, being full of English people getting ‘borracho’, and the foreign language I heard most was usually German, in the swimming pool. When I moved to secondary school though, I finally got to learn a foreign language – French. British people of a certain age will know what I am talking about when I say the words ‘Tricolore’ and ‘La Rochelle’. Say no more. I finally visited La Rochelle in 1998 on a rail trip around Europe and yes, it was exactly as I remembered in the famous school textbooks. French was fun, but in the second year I finally got to learn German. At twelve years old I was becoming a lot more interested in different languages, and I loved German. It quickly became my best subject, but I wanted more. I would sometimes go to the library and look through any books teaching foreign languages, to the best of my abilities – usually “1,000 words in Italian” or similar picture books, not really picking a lot up.

And then I discovered Berlitz phrase books and dictionaries – small pocket sized books with, as far as I was concerned, everything I needed. The first one I bought was a yellow-covered Swedish dictionary, bought from a now-gone bookshop on Burnt Oak Broadway. It cost £2.25. I think I was thirteen, and I’m sure part of my motivation for wanting to learn Swedish was ‘girls’. I just loved the way the language looked, and sounded, and all those little dots over the letters, and the little circle they sometimes put over the ‘a’, and even the word for ‘dictionary’ itself – “ordbok”, which my keen detective mind deduced must mean “word-book”. Around this time I would start to explore London. Sometimes I would get on the tube and go into central London looking for records, but usually, on Saturday afternoon, I would get on a bus and got to Harrow-on-the-Hill, to the bookshop at St. Anne’s, and spend literally hours sat upstairs in the languages section. It would be pouring with rain outside, and I was sat in the corner, reading the ‘Berlitz European Phrase Book’. I wish I still had that book, but I left it with my nephew when I moved to America. I read that book more than any other. It covered fourteen European languages: French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Italian, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Greek, Serbo-Croatian, Polish and, most exotic of all, Finnish and Russian. The Big Fourteen, as I thought of them. There was no Czech, that remained too exotic, no Romanian or Bulgarian (how excited was I when I discovered how Romanian was more like Italian and French), and Ukrainian was a language I didn’t even realize existed back in the pre-Soviet-demise era. I started spending my Saturday afternoons in the biggest local library, Hendon, devouring their language section, getting out books about Albanian or Afrikaans, drawing little Indo-European family trees, attempting (and failing) to figure out how to pronounce Irish words.

I did German and French A-Levels and ended up studying French at university, where I must admit my progress in languages started to flounder, as it got a bit hard. I was better at drama. I did do foreign language plays though, acting in several productions in German (including Romulus der Grosse by Friedrich Durrenmatt in which I was covered in fake blood with a Luke Skywalker-esque mechanical hand inside a stage built to look like a chicken coop full of feathers) (that was fun). In the end though I got my French degree and was selected to go and teach in Aix-en-Provence, where I continued to be bad at French to new levels, but it’s where I met my future wife, who was impressed at my ability to converse in three languages simultaneously at the pub, albeit not necessarily to the right people. My love of languages took me abroad to Aix which ultimately took me here to California, where my wife is from, and so you might say that in a roundabout way this little yellow Swedish dictionary is why I am here in Davis right now. But that is a bit of a stretch. I still have the book though, and here it is (scroll back to the start). I haven’t done any language learning in a long, long time (though I did get a Masters in Medieval English), but I still love the subject. And I still collect World Cup sticker albums. But I never did learn very much Spanish.  Or Swedish, for that matter.

current reading list

reading list june2018 sm

It may not surprise you given my recent output that this is my current reading list. Lots of football books. Number 1 is John Devlin’s newest book, International Football Kits – the Illustrated Guide. Yes, very much my sort of thing! He details the history of many of the world’s football shirts from about the 1960s. It’s extremely comprehensive. Number 2 is The Football Shirts Book by Neil Heard. Billed as ‘the connoisseur’s guide’ it shows photos and stories of football kits from down the ages from the perspective of a total football kit geek and fashionista. St. Etienne 1981, Denmark 1986, Fluminense 1991, Ajax 1973, England 1990 (3rd kit), all the hipster classics. It’s a great read for someone like me. Number 3 is the biggest and heaviest but is totally brilliant, the World Cup Panini Football Collections 1970-2014 , which is exactly that – a reprint of every Panini sticker album from every World Cup since 1970. All complete. So many memories! So many dodgy beards. The Hungarian keeper from 1986. I still have my albums going back to Mexico 86, none of which were completed. Number 4 is The Mixer by Michael Cox and details the history of tactics in the Premier League since its founding in 1992. One thing I had not thought of was that it coincided with the back-pass rule being abolished, a rule-change which I remember clearly (and was very happy about) but caused lots of defensive headaches originally, but led to a development of the game toward one where defenders and goalkeepers had to be better ball-players. This is a good book, it does go a bit deep when we hit the late 2000s and early 2010s, when things were to me not as interesting, but the story of those early days of the Premier League (aka the Premiership) bring back some colourful memories: Cantona, Blackburn, Newcastle, Giggsy, long shorts and baggy shirts. Number 5 is Futebol: the Brazilian Way of Life by Alex Bellos, given to me by our Brazilian friends, and is a series of essays about different aspects of Brazilian soccer and life. I’ve only read one chapter so far but it’s an interesting insight into that country’s culture. I’m looking forward to reading it. Number 6 is one that I have been reading a lot during the World Cup, Do You Speak Football? by Tom Williams. He goes around the world and lists local phrases and terms related to football. For example, in Saudi Arabia the term “yaseed hamaam” – ‘to hunt pigeons’ – is used for when players hit high balls over the bar (therefore posing a danger to wildlife), while in Brazil the top corner of the goal is called “onde dorme a coruja”, that is, ‘where the owl sleeps’. It’s a really fun read. And fnally, the 2018 World Cup Sticker Album by Panini. Of course! We are nowhere near completion yet, about a hundred out. On with the World Cup…

five minute sketching people

5 minute sketching people, by pete scully
Announcement alert! I have a new book!

It’s called “Five-Minute Sketching People“, and is being published this coming week by Firefly in North America, and Apple in the UK. It’s my second book in a year (following “Creative Sketching Workshop”), and the focus of this one is, as you can guess, all about sketching people in, well, not very much time at all. Over a hundred and twenty pages of tips and techniques, with some lovely contributed images from some of my favourite sketching friends. It’s called, as I say, “Five Minute Sketching People”, which is a bit like “24 Hour Party People” but you know, shorter. The thing with me is that, as you might know, I don’t draw people as often as I draw things that are not people (except other sketchers – I drew loads of people at the symposium this summer), so when I do, I tend to do it very quickly, in five minutes or less. People tend to move about, or have opinions, and change expressions constantly. It can be far more intimidating than drawing, for example, fire hydrants. Sketching people quickly means you can capture their essence without thinking too much, and so in this book I talk about that using different themes and examples. From sketching motion, to perspective, to using different media, and tip on different poses, I hope readers gain a few insights!

The book is available on amazon, and maybe in other places too. There is, and this is exciting, a sister companion to this book called “Five Minute Sketching Architecture” by Liz Steel, my urban sketching friend from Australia. She is a prolific and rapid sketcher, and also an architect herself, and that book is one I am super excited to read. Why not get the pair!


my son's books

More drawings from the Book of my Son’s Things. These are some of the books that we read at bedtime. I’ve always read to him at night, though now he is a pretty avid reader himself and loves a book. These ones really had to be recorded though. First off, Mr Chatterbox. I loved the Mr Men when I was a little kid, I was the go-to Mr Men expert in our class. I remember in primary school one time we actually did a Mr Men performance for assembly and made huge paper Mr Men – whose job was it to draw them? I was “Mr Mr Men”. And the “Little Miss” series too, I loved them though thought that calling them “Little” was a bit belittling. I think I liked Mr Rush best, or maybe Mr Silly, but my son, who got his Mr Men interest basically from me, loves Mr Chatterbox. Rather, he likes how we read it. I do the Chatterbox voice super fast, and we have now read it so many times that the story has evolved into something else entirely. One bizarre version of it replaces all nouns in the book with the word “hat”. We deconstruct other Mr Men books too, such as Mr impossible, which we refer to as Mr I’m Possible, because he seems to only do things which are actually possible, if you look closely. Ok, next book, “Too Many Cats”. No, I’m not ready for that one. Next up, “The BFG” by Roald Dahl. We read this last year, before embarking upon a Dahl-fest reading blitz, picking up loads of his books one after the other (I love “the Witches” best, though when I was a kid it was “George’s Marvelous Medicine”). He reads them at school too, and last Christmas while in England we went to the Roald Dahl museum at his old house in Buckinghamshire. That was pretty brilliant. Since then my son has been reading a lot about Roald Dahl’s life at school and coming home with all sorts of interesting facts. Ok, next up is “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” by JK Rowling. He hadn’t seen the movies, but one of his friends really likes Harry Potter, and my wife and I do as well – the first film had come out just before we met, and we read the books and watched the films together. So recently we started reading the Potter books at bedtime, and he loves them. I have great fun doing all the voices, especially Snape (poor old Alan Rickman! He was my favourite actor, so sad he died). We are watching each of the movies upon completion of the book. We’re up to “Prisoner of Azkaban” now, and I can’t wait to watch that film again.
Right, ok, “Too Many Cats”. We got this book years ago before he was learning to read, it’s one of those where you read one page, and then the child reads the other which might have two words on it. I think because he knows I can’t stand the book he still gets me to read it, though he himself reads full novels now. It’s another one that we just have fun deconstructing and having fun with, it has us both laughing at the silly cats. We now have this idea that the main character Suzu is actually a time-traveler with anthropomorphic rabbit feet stuck in a strange time-loop and the ten colourful cats are pan-dimensional visitors carrying warnings she fails to fully understand. I don’t know, you need to read it. I hope they never make a movie about it. Too Many bloody Cats. I had to draw it, another one of our many fun memories.

urban sketching: complete guide to techniques

Thorspecken book1I am pleased to tell you that some of my drawings are currently to be found in an excellent new book by fellow Urban Sketcher, Thomas Thorspecken, the USk correspondent in Florida. You should check out his website Analog Artist, Digital World. I have been a fan of Thomas (aka Thor) for a few years now, for his colorful and energetic sketches of performances and events, and have sought his advice in the past – you can learn a lot from him. Well, he came out with a book, which is very much a ‘how to do it’ book, right down to giving advice on scanning and correcting images in Photoshop (which is very familiar territory to a regular sketchblogger), as well as nuts and bolts such as perspective and composition, even giving step-by-steps by Thomas and other artists. I’m honoured to have been included; here is one of mine:

Thorspecken book2And another:

Thorspecken book3Thanks for including me Thomas! To everyone else: buy the book! Learn a lot!

an illustrated illustrated journey

An Illustrated Journey
As mentioned in a previous post, I have recently had the immense honour of being included as a featured artist in Danny Gregory’s latest book, “An Illustrated Journey“. And here it is! I got my copy recently, and have been poring over each beautiful page, inspired by not only the pictures but the words of the great keepers of sketchbooks inside. So much to read, but every time I do, I just want to get up and draw stuff. So I drew the book itself, on the last regular page of my watercolour Moleskine…
Here is a sneak preview of some of my pages. To see the rest, you’ll need to get the book!
An Illustrated Journey
An Illustrated Journey
Many thanks once more to Danny Gregory for including me in this book. You can get it from your local bookstore (which I recommend), or you can order it from Amazon here.

I hope you enjoy it!

a look at the book of the art of urban sketching

The Art of Urban Sketching

I am really enjoying The Art of Urban Sketching. It’s also fun seeing people from all around the world enjoying it as much as I am, and hopefully being inspired to get out and draw by every page. I like it so much, that I will be at the Avid Reader bookstore on 2nd St, Davis this Friday, Feb 24th at 7:30pm, talking about the book, about Urban Sketchers, and about urban sketching in general. If you fancy coming along to hear me yap on and on and maybe pick up a copy of the book (and support one of your local independent stores), pop by the Avid Reader at half seven this Friday evening!

PS: here is an excellent video of Gabi Campanario, the book’s author and founder of Urban Sketchers, talking about the book on local Seattle TV this week along with Gail Wong of the Seattle Urban Sketchers group. Enjoy!

The Avid Reader, Davis

The Art of Urban Sketching (Facebook page)

Urban Sketchers