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Oct 1, 2023

International Lion's Day Sketchbook painting (2023) Farah Shah

Happy October all!

As I have been offline in September, I haven't had time to prepare for this months blog post. But, I shall continue on with some sketchbook talk as that is what I use most days.

See last month's post - Why do Sketchbooks matter? for an insight into sketchbooks and my journey so far.

I normally reserve my process posts for my Patreon page, but as a little treat I thought I would share some behind-the-scenes of this lion sketchbook painting in honour of International Lion's Day 2023.

This way of working is not necessarily how I work every time as it all depends on the topic and what I want to achieve from the final image. But I do hope it gives you an insight into how one may work in a sketchbook.


Where do you start when you are faced with a blank page? That dreaded fear of what to draw thought?

I was in luck as I didn't have to think about it too much, as I knew the final image was going to be a lion.

Stillman and Birn Gamma sketchbook*

Before I get any colour on to the page, I always sketch out the topic first with a Non-photo Blue Pencil*. I have only started using this pencil from the beginning of this year and I absolutely love it! It is a game changer for me. I find I can work very loosely with it and paint right on top without any line showing through. I have actually ditched my graphite HB pencil for this - well nearly. I still keep a graphite pencil for super quick thumbnail sketches.

I find it is very important to spend time to sketch out the topic as you want to achieve the right composition and especially in this case - the right shape of the lion. One can draw a lion in many ways, but I just wanted to capture a lion directly looking at the viewer. For me, it is always about the eyes!

Once the page has been mapped out, I like to use a combination of Tombow Pens*, Ecoline Brush Pens*, Acrylic Marker Pens* and Posca Pens* to get some colour onto the page. Phew that is a lot of material.

You may ask why so many pens? Well, it is down to the colours and texture of each pen. Each brand does not have all the colours - so you have to cross brand to get the colour you need.

As the background and lion are natural colours - I have picked some earthy tones to put down first and then I can add more colours accordingly.


Next, I grab my Watercolour Brushes, Watercolour Tin Palette, Gouache paints and Gansai Tambi paints and put many layers of colour down. Here, I am just blocking out the colours and figuring out the light source. Always keep in mind, where your light and dark places are on the page. This is important as you want to make sure the page is conveying the correct light. In this instance, the light source is from the front - so it is not too much of a problem as I can add the dark places later and work around it.

This is the part where many artists including myself will call it the "ugly stage". It looks like a total car crash mess and has no direction of where the overall painting is going. But, as we say trust the process and just go with the flow.

Did you notice, I used a Dark Blue colour for the mane? This adds contrast and interest to the page instead of using a brown colour. Yellow = Blue. In depth colour talk will be discussed in future blog posts or and Patreon.


It may look like there hasn't been much change on this page to the previous image, but I do start to define the areas with Tombow Pens* and add some colour back onto the page. I have used white gouache to add some highlights across the page including the beautiful mane.

As you continue to put marks down on the page, you gain more confidence and start to find the flow of the page.

You will notice that as I have added more definition to the lion - it too has started to take shape even without his eyes being on the page.


This is a turning point as I determine where the light values are before I can add the final texture.

I have used a Blue Watersoluable Caran D'Ache Neocolor 2* for the shadow areas and the water behind the lion.

It maybe seem odd putting down a light blue for a shadow - but it will act as a under glow coat for when I add in the final shadow colour.


Final image.

The painting is finished off with using a handful of coloured pencils including Caran D'Ache Luminance Pencils*, Derwent drawing pencils* and Derwent Procolour Pencils*.

Adding texture has to be one of my favourite parts - I would say it is the same with many other artists? You can create so much depth, texture and tonal values with just one pencil. And as you can see from the details, the lion has truly come alive and looking directly at you!

Adding the eyes at the end is very important as this defines the character or animals personality. It can also change the whole look of the page!

Lastly, as I am coming to the end of this post - I will leave you with a simple quote:

"A Pencil and a dream can take you anywhere" - Joyce Meyer.

This is why I CAN always rely on traditional media, especially a pencil!

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If you want to see more of my processes, I have a Patreon page** where you can follow my creative journey and in depth material usage. It is currently paused until Early 2024, but you can catch up with me via my Instagram stories.

I hope you enjoyed this post and thank you so much for reading this one! It means a lot to me!

Feel free to share your thoughts. I would love to hear them!

Wishing you a warm and magical October and I hope it is full of all things spooky!

Speak soon!

Farah x

*Any products mentioned have not been endorsed or sponsored.

** Patreon is paused until early 2024.

Sept 1, 2023

You may or may not use a sketchbook currently, but I hope my sketchbook journey inspires you somewhat.

Happy September all!

As the schools get ready to go back for a new term and everyone is slowly getting back into a routine, I always feel this time of the year is like a reset and a fresh start - Perfect timing to start a new sketchbook.

I have always used a sketchbook as far as I can remember. You are taught to use one from an early age, right through to Art school. But, after I graduated in 2012 (BA Honours Degree), I fell out of love with a sketchbook and just painted on pieces of paper again. I guess I didn't understand the importance of them at that time!

I started a new sketchbook on the 1st of January 2016, when I first discovered a Moleskine watercolour album* and Reeves Fine Gouache*. Before this, I always thought that acrylic paints were the best thing since sliced bread.

A5 Molesine Watercolour Album painting (2016) by Farah Shah

I picked a topic that was of an interest to me - Birds. I have always been fascinated by these little creatures, after seeing my cat trying to talk to one. Thanks kitty cat! Using a sketchbook meant I could learn how to use gouache paint without a worry and just enjoy the process. These small paintings are still over on my early Instagram page.



Attending Art School between 2016-2018, I continued to use a sketchbook but in a very different way. With a fast paced course and projects, you have to use one without any thought or care in the world - just as long as you had something to show at the end of each module.

Working in this fast way did have its moments - I used to rip out pages as I thought they were not good enough, or begin new sketchbooks as a fresh start (in hope the tutors didn't notice).

However, using a sketchbook in this way did push me to get my ideas down and for my final masters project, you can see that it helped me to create something I might not have otherwise.

A4 Molesine Watercolour Album painting (2017) by Farah Shah

I have always had a rocky relationship with a sketchbook (swapping and changing them) since the MA, that is until recently I discovered a new sketchbook brand - Stillman and Birn*. With a change of sketchbooks and new materials, I am on a new exciting journey once again!



"My sketchbook is a witness of what I am experiencing, scribbling things whenever they happen." ~ Vincent Van Gogh

As I have been finding out, sketchbook practice has helped me grow as a creative person once again! From the beginning of this year, I have been playing more and more in sketchbooks and I am certainly enjoying the process. Not many of you will know this, but I have done a few art hauls this year and spent an absolute fortune on sketchbooks - Just to get one that works for me!

I have found the one - A5 Stillman and Birn Gamma Series* (Other sketchbook brands are available)

A5 Stillman and Birn Gamma sketchbook* painting (2023) by Farah Shah

Since I have started using this sketchbook, my work has become more playful and sometimes I find myself creating all day long. Why you ask? It allows you the freedom to experiment without the worry of what it will look like or the final outcome. Don't worry if something goes wrong, you can cover it up - as long as you are enjoying the process! :)

At A5 size, laid flat to A4, it is the perfect size to capture what I need to and quickly jot down any ideas that I might have seen during the day or and on my travels. Not only that, it is a place where I can freely work out new mediums and experiment with different ideas - which then informs my future portfolio pieces.

BUT, don't let me fool you! Just because I have found the "one" sketchbook, it might not be the right one for you! I would recommend starting with a small and budget friendly sketchbook!

(Portfolio topic and sketchbook reviews will be discussed in a future post)

Before I share some tips with you; by keeping a sketchbook, it will certainly improve your creative voice. If not your creative voice, then think of it as a creative space where you can look over your previous ideas! I know for certain I cannot live without mine today! So give it a go and have fun as sketchbooks do matter!

(This topic covers a big extensive area and will be revisited with future subdivisions!)

Handmade sketchbook painting (2023) by Farah Shah



Here are some tips that can help you start using a sketchbook:

  1. Start small! Start with a small low-cost sketchbook. You won't feel overwhelmed! I still use my favourite A6 size today!

  2. Pick a topic you like! Choose a theme that you are drawn to. Maybe it a favourite toy, a favourite colour or even your favourite clothing item.

  3. Use a new material - even if it is a biro-pen! I always find that switching material gets me inspired to just put a mark down.

  4. Skip the first page! From experience, I always had a fear of messing up the first page as I wanted it to be "perfect". By doing this, you have already changed the way you open your sketchbook.

  5. Work randomly! Working on random pages will inspire you more then working in chronological order. It will help you finish the sketchbook faster.

  6. Don't rip out pages! As tempting as it is - you cannot then look back on your failings and compare pages over time.

  7. Time! Put a time on it. Time yourself and see how much you can achieve within 10 minutes upto 1 hour. I know I work faster because of this!

  8. Keep different sized sketchbooks! Different sizes = different outcomes. You will thank me for this tip, as each sketchbook gives you something different.

  9. Enjoy the process! Once you have put a mark down, you are on your way to having fun! :)

These tips are my own views and just a starting point, which may help improve your work flow, your explorations, experiments and even help you gain confidence whilst finding a creative voice.

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If you want to see more, I have a Patreon page** where you can follow my creative journey and sketchbook process. This month, I am sharing a time lapse video of the autumn bear from this month's newsletter.

Thank you so much for reading and being here! It means a lot to me!

Feel free to share your sketchbook tips or findings. I would love to hear them!

Wishing you a cosy start to September and I hope it is full of Autumn goodness and golden leaves.

Speak soon!

Farah x

*Any products mentioned have not been endorsed or sponsored.

** Seven days free trial as a thank you!

August 1, 2023

Happy August all!

I hope you have been eating plenty of strawberries and enjoying the summer where-ever you are in the world! I have surely been getting through a lot of strawberries myself and of course soaking in the sun as much as I can. Don't worry, I made sure I had suncream on! Always remember to put suncream on before you leave the house, as this will save your life - from my own experience.

Let's start this blog journey off with a little bit of charity work I do every year. Saying that, it is my second year taking part for a charity cause and I hope to continue for many more years to come.

Last year, I got asked by the Epilepsy Action Charity to take part in their yearly National Doodle Day auction by submitting two original one of a kind drawing/paintings. I jumped at the chance and said yes to raising awareness and doing something just to raise a little bit more funds for the charity. Not only does this auction include illustrators like me, but there are authors and celebrities who pick up their pens, pencils and paints to create something unique!

I may not know anyone with this condition, but having said that, it is a very common disease that affects over 50 million people worldwide.

Original paintings (2022) by Farah Shah



Epilepsy is a condition that affects the brain, causing repeated seizures. It can affect anyone from all backgrounds and all ages. Seizures come in a whole wide range of different types - where people can have a one-off episode, or seizures that last for a limited time. But most of the time, unfortunately Epilepsy is a life-long condition.


Seizures can be controlled by different treatment options such as medicine, surgery, therapy and even diets. But most of the time, people don't have access to these treatments and this is where the charity steps in. By raising funds through "National Doodle Day" auction, you are helping someone who has this awful disease.