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Travels with My Sketchbook by Chris Riddell. Book Review

August 31, 2017

Travels with my sketchbook

When prolific author and illustrator Chris Riddell (Goth Girl, amongst many other works), was made Children’s Laureate he kept a diary of his daily activities. This was no ordinary diary but an illustrated record of the two years, laced with his keen observations and wit.

I first saw this book as a sample from NetGalley courtesy of Pan Macmillan Children’s Books, and knew I would have to buy the book when it came out; which I did.

I am a bit of a sketchbook addict, as well as a collector of graphic novels, so the purchase of Travels with My Sketchbook might have been said to be a foregone conclusion.

The front cover alone, a picture of the author busy scribbling away in his sketchbook, really gives a good idea of what you’re likely to find inside the covers. The deceptively simple lines and elegant watercolour wash are a whole story in themselves depicting someone for whom nothing in life escapes his attention; pens and pencils ready to make a note of his life festoon the pockets of his slightly crumpled jackets and unruly shirt. His shoe lace has come undone, leading you to wonder what’s going to happen to him when he eventually gets up and tries to take a step.

The book is full of the equivalent of these one-liners, as well as short bursts of a group of pictures, some hugely detailed, which is why it has taken so long to read for review.

It is a book which will keep a reader occupied for weeks ,and probably for years, as they go back in to renew acquaintances with their favourites and delight in finding something new each time they delve back in.

There is quite a bit of political comment (not surprising, given Riddell is political cartoonist for the Guardian and the Observer). For this reason, Travels with My Sketchbook is probably for the older children’s market, as well as YA and adults. But there are sections of it which, when extracted, would appeal to a huge age rang, so it’s not surprising Riddell has spent so much time working with children.

Riddell is old school when it comes to producing artwork, which means pencil, pen and watercolour. This is something which comes over clearly as you work through the many different styles of drawing and painting he has produced for this book. It is something which really adds to the sense that you are buying an extended work of art.

Below is a film of how he works:

For anyone thinking of becoming an illustrator this is a wonderful book for studying not only technique but also making you think about what it is that really gives a picture a narrative and one which might speak back to the story. Or it is a book to be kept and enjoyed for all its artistry, life and humour.

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