The ‘Sketchy B*tches’ got together on Zoom to celebrate ‘Roald Dahl Day’ (13 September) by drawing quick portraits of each other ‘dahled-up’ and in the style of his illustrator Quentin Blake. Most of us had childhoods reading Dahl so we loved these books and Blake’s illustrations. Some of us also dressed up for the occasion (Sara as ‘James and the Giant Peach’ with a peach hat, Lene as a witch with black gloves, a jar of potion, and a ‘mouse’ (it was actually a tiny plastic ferret but imagination transforms), and me as ‘Fantastic Mr Fox.’ Here is a screenshot of some of the B*tches portraits, with me in costume, and a selection of their diverse responses to the brief:
London Drawing Group had already introduced me to working in the process of Quentin Blake (see post 14), but I felt that it was not possible to use this in the time constraints of doing portraits in only 5-10 minutes. Dip-pen ink needs time to dry before inking is applied, otherwise there is smearing and running of colours. As a result, I initially tried using brush pens (also permanent with pigmented ink), which are effective for speed and colours remain distinct. Here are two examples (all of them are on my Instagram feed – @clarisearle):
(Self-portrait in 5 minutes)
(Dulcie as the ‘Bird Lady of Bethnal Green’)
The problem is that this is a strong vivid style and it seemed wrong to emulate Blake without using the delicate and lively lines of the dip pen. I was also displeased with capturing the character of the sitter – Dulcie does not look like this and is much more beautiful. She has also somehow become the placid Miss Honey character from ‘Matilda,’ whom she actually expressed a dislike for earlier (she prefers Miss Trunchbull). As a result of such dissatisfaction, I switched to using dip pen with a plan to ink in colours after the break.
It was especially exciting to use the dip pen directly on paper without concern for pencil breakdowns (no time for that!) and this felt like a better honouring of Quentin Blake’s style. Obviously, I have a special liking for birds, so had noted Blake’s birds and tried to include them in my characterisation, as below:
I was much happier working in this way and was able to add more of Blake’s style, more of the sitter’s character, and even a little narrative. The one of Clare above captures her earlier concern about her just washed messy hair.
The image below condenses the following ideas; Lene’s love of Dahl’s ‘The Witches’, her tiny plastic ferret (as mouse), her potion pot, the fact she considers herself a witch or has an ‘inner witch,’ and her love of black. She requested that I ink her costume in black, which was particularly challenging as the colour obscures her black gloves to some extent. I am fond of this one because it captures these elements and also captures Lene’s happiness and her lovely red hair:
The cartoon below is of Ceinwen – it was the first time that I had ‘met’ her online. She did not seem to have a favourite Dahl book and mentioned ‘Matilda’ when pushed (perhaps she did not like reading as a child), but she did share the memory of her Grandad buying her all of the Dahl books. I attempted to capture this:
This final portrait of Michele illustrates her love of swearing and the ‘Churchill’ dog – she had just bought a nodding dog version from a flea market earlier that day. She told us that she had always wanted one. The cartoon is embellished reality – she was wearing a T-shirt of that colour (it was blank though) and she was posing with the Churchill dog (it did not speak to her however – at least not in my hearing):
I wanted to finish with this one, because of Michele’s encouraging feedback after I put this image on Instagram. These are her messages sent with minutes between and her choice of emoticons:
‘That is fucking great!!! Love it, very me! ’
‘Makes me laugh every time I look at it. Fab!’
‘That is classic! I want to buy it! ’
(I agreed to send it to her)
‘Thank you so much – will frame it ’
Lovely and surprising encouragement. Perhaps to remember and treasure on days of black dogged doubt (when of course all that is positive will be forgotten anyway ha ha).
Searle, C (2020) Instagram Feed ‘@clarisearle’ available at:
https://www.instagram.com/clarisearle/ [accessed 15.09.2020]
Sketch Appeal (2020) ‘What We Do – Sketchy Bitches’ available at:
https://www.sketchappeal.co.uk/what-we-do [accessed 15.09.2020]