if ever a wiz there was

hogwarts castle universal studio
Recently we went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is part of the Universal Studios theme park in Hollywood (well, Universal City). It was a surprise trip for our son who loves Harry Potter (so do we!). It was pretty great, and the butterbeer was lovely. Wands at Ollivander’s were expensive, but really cool – you can cast spells around all the windows and make things move about. This is the second Wizarding World built after the first one at Universal Florida, and has a cool Hogsmeade area. The castle itself is pretty cool, and I sketched it while sipping butterbeer as a chorus of toads sang to my right. Overall though, I think the Harry Potter tour of the original sets at Warner Bros outside London was better, but this was still fun. The ride inside the castle though was utterly mental, a total thrill ride. By the way, I got ‘sorted’ on Pottermore into Gryffindor, which makes sense. My son got Gryffindor as well. My wife however got sorted into Slytherin! So I got her a Slytherin scarf. We had lunch at the Three Broomsticks, and later I had a pint at the Hog’s Head. Oh, I didn’t sketch with a Quill, but I totally would have done.

hogwarts sign universal studio

Oh, this was page 1 of my second Stillman and Birn “Beta” landscape sketchbook (blue softcover). Those are nice. I also enjoyed the whole Simpsons-themed area as well, having a pint of Duff in Moe’s Tavern, getting a massive pink Lard Lad donut, eating chikcen and waffles from Cleetus’s Chicken Shack, popping into the Kwik-E-Mart, great fun. Oh, and here is a sketch I did on the plane down to Burbank in my Miquelrius “Lapin” covered sketch/notebook. .

Flight to Burbank March 2017

a farewell to dippy

Dippy NHM London

Well the New Year is here and I am still posting sketches from November. I know you just can’t get enough of 2016. These are the sketches I did on our brief sojourn back to London over Thanksgiving. It was a week of family fun more than sketching outings (I did most of my UK sketching in the summer) but I managed a few. Above is a sketch from the Natural History Museum. My son really wanted to go there to see the geology exhibits (he loves rocks and minerals) and we wanted to see our beloved Dippy one last time before he is removed from the main hall and replaced with a whale skeleton. Dippy, for those who don’t know, is the giant Diplodocus skeleton in the Hintze Hall. Dippy’s been in the NHM for over a century and has been in that hall since I was a little kid, when I would go there all the time with school or my big sister; I do love the Natural History Museum. Well Dippy is leaving! This very week in fact. They are replacing Dippy with a large blue whale skeleton that will hang from the ceiling. Dippy will go on a tour of the UK (see here for details). My son and I found a seat in an alcove to sketch, but we couldn’t see the whole Dippy so sketched what we could see.


We also visited the Harry Potter tour at the Warner Bros Studios, at Leavesden, just outside London. We are big Harry Potter fans, and my son read the books and saw the movies this year for the first time so it was an exciting visit to go and see the real sets where they were filmed. We only had time for one sketch (so much to see! We could have been there all day) so I sketched the entrance to Dumbledore’s office while he drew the big pendulum thing. I got a Gryffindor scarf. According to the Pottermore website, my son and I would both be in Gryffindor (my wife got sorted into Slytherin!). We went there with my mum, sister and nephew, and it was a really fun family day, I do recommend it.

Hogwarts Griffin Stairwell, WB Studios, England


One other place I was eager to visit was the new Switch House at the Tate Modern, the new tall extension to the gallery on the South Bank. It only opened last summer. My son kinda enjoyed the gallery (we saw both my books in the shop! But he was more excited about the tiny Slinky he bought) but was nervous about going to the tenth floor observation deck. When we were up there though he loved it, and again we sat and sketched the view. This is now my favourite spot in London and I will definitely come back with a few hours on hand to do a big detailed panorama. It was amazing there. Here is what I did sketch, of the view across the Thames to St. Paul’s Cathedral:

St Pauls from Tate Modern

The scene below is of drinkers at the very intimate pub off Trafalgar Square, The Harp. I came here with my friend Roshan, as they do good beer; one day I’d like to sketch the whole bar. As it was, I sketched these happydrikers while Roshan popped to the loo. Less-than-five-minute people sketching!

People at Harp pub, London

And here is Burnt Oak tube station, in the area my family live (and I am from. Looking as it has ever done. I was going to finish this, but I wanted to get back and have a cup of tea, and never finished it at home.

Burnt Oak Station

One last sketch, which is of course the in-flight drawing on the Virgin flight coming home. It was one of the newer planes, and unlike in the summer, this time I didn’t get completely squashed up and have a bad back for several weeks afterwards. Which was handy. Farewell again then my London, until next time!


Harry Christmas!


Each year, I make my son an advent calendar. They have been getting more elaborate each year, and always themed differently. Behind each window I put a selection of images of things that he has been interested in during that year – the one when he was three for example had Bob the Builder, Fireman Sam, Poppy Cat etc, while now it’s more Minecraft, Pokemon, Harry Potter etc. We read the Harry Potter books together this year, one after the other, followed by the movies, and he is a huge Potter fan now; we even visited the Warner Bros Studios “Harry Potter Tour” outside London last month, touring the sets where they filmed the movies, which was amazing. So it made sense then that this year I should make a Harry Potter themed advent calendar. And here it is!

This one was bigger and more complicated than I have made before, drawn in pen and coloured with a mixture of watercolour. As you can see, it opens out into a larger scene with Hogwarts in the background. The first panel, when it’s all closed up, is the Hogwarts Express, opening up to then reveal Hogsmeade, opening up to reveal the Forbidden Forest, the Black Lake, and a magical view of the Great Hall. I started drawing this at the beginning of November, and had about four fifths of it drawn before taking a break for our Thanksgiving trip to London. I finished it when I got back, painting it physically, scanning it, colouring part of it digitally and stitching it together, before printing it, cutting the windows with a perforator, adding the images behind each window (oh, and it does have a window nine-and-three-quarters between windows 9 and 10), gluing it onto some left over mat board from another project, and managing somehow to get it all done for December 1st. Well, about 2am on December 2nd. Yeah, it took a while and was ultimately a day late but it was well worth it. My son loved it, and was totally surprised, having not seen it at all in progress. This is the sixth advent calendar I have made for him, and already I’m thinking about next year…



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.