Observation Journal: Five Things to Steal from Midsomer Murders

This page of the observation journal features five things to steal from Midsomer Murders. (The show has shown up in this category before — see Five Things to Steal: Cosy Crime Edition.)

(Related: previous Five Things to Steal posts and an explanation of what it means, drawn from Austen Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist; also Midsomer Murders TV sketches)

Double page spread of observation journal. Tiny handwritten observations, a drawing of a person listening at the door. On the right page, notes on Midsomer Murders, with some sketches.

(Also a continuation of vaguely Minoan-inspired border design.)

As ever, this exercise was both useful and soothing. And also as ever, I enjoy murder mysteries for the narrative hijinks they permit far more than for either the murder or the mystery.

Handwritten notes on Midsomer Murders, with some sketches.

The sense of someone being gradually taught (and learning) the next stage of their profession, and being somewhat supervised but also getting to be clever occasionally. Why? The charm of the learning-of-a-craft and the romance of the acquisition of competence. (Related: The Romance and Horror of the Navigable World.) (There’s a note here that says “nb also ducklings” and I’m not sure what the context of that was.) This was also connected to previous notes on the charm of listening to apprentices inserted into the ceiling of my house: Sparks and Navigable Worlds and Improbable Inventions.

Ballpoint drawing of man in coat demonstrating magic to short apprentice while woman with apron looks on assessingly
master & apprentice stories vs journeyman & apprentice stories — with magic

Endlessly stable central family never entirely uninvolved. I’d already been thinking about this more broadly (see Favourite Tropes About Families) and it would show up again.

ballpoint sketch of people at a table, formless figures looming in background
a family calm in the heart of chaos and/or ghosts

Good Guys defeat main Bad Guys but minor Morally Questionable Guys get away with a small windfall easily overlooked by the other parties. E.g. Sackville-Bagginses.

Ballpoint sketch of mouse carrying coin and "secondary story in details of image gets richer over course)
a tale of one bad mouse

Someone whose tall stories/colourful background turns out to have been completely true. (Less Big Fish and more flashmob society funeral). The opposite of secrets — the truth not believed/credited.

Everyone has a secret and not all is murder. I’d also recently read Kate Milford’s Greenglass House, so it’s cited here.

As usual, most of these include notes on how to adapt/adopt an idea. The “why” dot-point in the first entry was worth doing, and I’d like to do it more. And several points of fascination would show up in other entries.

Art/writing exercise

Basically, this is a way to take contained, useful notes about something you’ve seen/heard/watched/read. But it’s also an excellent way to identify fascinations, activities, and creative puzzles that you want to pursue (and to always have something to say about a topic).

  1. Think of something you’ve seen/heard/watched/attended/read etc. You don’t have to have liked it.
  2. Think of five things you could steal (i.e. learn, adopt, adapt, try, not plagiarise) from it.
  3. For each, if you want, dig a little deeper. Why this?
  4. Then for each, make a note on how you’d ‘steal’ it — how you’d adapt it into your work or life or a particular project. You don’t have to follow through on it, as the thought exercise alone is quite useful. But you might!
Ballpoint sketch of person listening at a door
Listening? In my living room, anyway

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TV Sketching: Midsomer Murders (S22 E5&6)

Here are the remaining TV sketches for season 22 of Midsomer Murders, episodes 5 (“For Death Prepare”) and 6 (“The Witches of Angel’s Rise”).

For other TV sketching, see TV SKETCHING. For previous Midsomer Murders sketches specifically, see:

The rule is: I can’t pause the show while sketching.

First, “For Death Prepare”, in which rehearsals for Pirates of Penzance are interrupted several times (and some very early Midsomer tropes are teased).

Little digital sketches of figures and characters from Midsomer Murders s22e5
Midsomer Murders s22e5: For Death Prepare

It’s a delight drawing characters in flamboyant costumes (see also the Murder, She Wrote sketches). The flashy shapes and colours are easy to focus on, which takes some of the stress off drawing the other sections.

I kind of love those flying birds below, top right.

Little digital sketches of figures and characters from Midsomer Murders s22e5
Midsomer Murders s22e5: For Death Prepare

And as ever, lighting and protective wear remain interesting and entertaining to draw.

Little digital sketches of figures and characters from Midsomer Murders s22e5
Midsomer Murders s22e5: For Death Prepare

The Witches of Angel’s Rise skewed more towards Gothic melodrama.

Little digital sketches of figures and characters from Midsomer Murders s22e6
Midsomer Murders s22e6: The Witches of Angel’s Rise

Below, I particularly enjoyed (enjoyed?) speed-drawing the reflection in the mirrored sphere (top right), and sketching a painting (lower left) and the bucket reflections (lower right).

Little digital sketches of figures and characters from Midsomer Murders s22e6
Midsomer Murders s22e6: The Witches of Angel’s Rise

I also really like that little sketch of the figure and the bowl, third down on the right — simple shading and strong light.

Little digital sketches of figures and characters from Midsomer Murders s22e6
Midsomer Murders s22e6: The Witches of Angel’s Rise

Also, as ever, the architecture of Midsomer (above) is a delight to draw, although the camera rarely lingers quite long enough.

Also, generally, I like the excuse to use orange.

Little digital sketches of figures and characters from Midsomer Murders s22e6
Midsomer Murders s22e6: The Witches of Angel’s Rise

For other TV sketching, see TV SKETCHING. For previous Midsomer Murders sketches specifically, see:

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More Midsomer sketching

Here are a few more Midsomer Murders sketches (season 22 episode 4). As ever, the rule is that I can’t pause the show.

Previously on Midsomer Sketching:

Midsomer Sketching

More Midsomer Murders sketches! These are from episodes 1, 2 and 3 of Season 22.

I’m really enjoying these speed-sketches. I started them mostly to get/keep in practice using the Procreate app (I’m sticking with a traditional media base for my art, but there’s always some digital editing). TV sketching, however, does require faster reflexes than actual cafe sketching, because while the models viewed from a cafe do walk out of view, the scene is rarely actually cut mid-stride, and there’s no fancy camera work. On a show, however, the views and clothing are more varied, and occasionally the camera angle and lighting are dramatic. Also, it’s cool to look back at a few pages from a single episode and see if there are patterns or colour themes.

(And of course it remains a useful way to draw when excursions are limited.)

The rule continues to be that I am not allowed to pause the show while sketching.

Previously on Midsomer Sketching:

TV sketching — backgrounds

Midsomer Murders — The Sting of Death

I’m practicing with the Procreate app by sketching during shows. Usually I draw people (see: Beyond the Main Event and Sketching Mysteries), but this time wanted to shake myself up and test my (very low) tolerance for drawing backgrounds by sketching sets and buildings instead. The rule for TV sketching is that I can’t pause the show, which makes this mostly painless.

Midsomer Murders — either The Point of Balance or The Miniature Murders

Also my visual memory is indifferent, so I can’t tinker with the drawing for very long after the scene changes. But sometimes it also means I only capture the telling details. Sometimes. (See also: Lots of little bad drawings.)

Midsomer Murders — The Sting of Death

As with most sketches, I find a little colour can do a lot of work — explaining, unifying, contextualising. Colour, more than line alone, is a great aid to memory — both for recalling what I was looking at, and for remembering (or wanting) to look at that particular page of sketches.

Midsomer Murders — The Sting of Death

It’s also been illuminating to work out which bits of architecture I can and can’t extrapolate. Dormers I can work out from first principles, but windows are a more chaotic proposition.

Leverage — The Underground Job (I think)

Art/writing exercise:

  • Try to capture a range of settings from a TV show without pausing the show.
    • This can be in pictures, as above, or in a few jotted sentences — the things that leap out at you, the way you’d capture and describe that place.
    • It’s an interesting little workout, and a pleasant way to keep my hands busy when I don’t want to completely zone out during a show. Also, even if it’s a show set in places I like, I still find it makes me draw (or describe) places I wouldn’t ordinarily choose, and adds them to my mental thesaurus. (So far, I find murder mysteries particularly good at rolling through a range of interesting sets in an episode.)
    • (This is kind of what Travelogues is, of course, if you replace a TV screen with a train window.)
  • Bonus step: Make a note of what was easy and what was difficult (architectural terminology trips me up), and what you enjoyed and resisted.
    • I find this part of exercises occasionally surprising, sometimes affirming (I don’t want to spend my life drawing horizontal blinds), and frequently a checklist for deliberate research.

Sketching mysteries

I’ve been sketching when I watch TV with my housemate in the evenings. Currently, that means I’m sketching Midsomer Murders. This is in the service of (a) having something to do with my hands and (b) test-driving Procreate on an iPad Pro I’ve hired for a month. (It turns out this is an option! I searched for business equipment hire places, and hired it along with an Apple Pencil — they rent Cintiqs, too, and I was planning on trialling both, but the iPad Pro is already very promising and considerably more useful than the very old one I last used.)

This is not my first time sketching Midsomer Murders, but last time I was using it as a source of passers-by in lieu of being able to watch actual people (see Beyond the main event — experiments with sketching).

This time I’m using it for speed-sketching characters (since I’m watching with someone else, I can’t keep pausing). It’s an effective way to watch a fairly familiar show. I definitely notice certain demographic idiosyncrasies more than usual, for good as well as ill — there are lots of great character actors with interesting faces in episodic murder mysteries, and they skew older so there’s more to work with in terms of visible structure.

Also, while people don’t hold their poses, they keep reappearing, so you can try the same person again from different angles.

It was also very good practice to draw people in the act of speaking, the different ways they move their mouths, and how their teeth fit into them, which comes up less in some fields of illustration than in others.

And of course the ongoing reminder that the faster the sketch, the more happy I am likely to be with it. Here are two of my favourites.

Kind-of-sort-of Ruby Wilmott (Julia McKenzie) and Jack Fothergill (Sam Kelly)

Beyond the main event — experiments with sketching

I’m testing ways to sketch in the absence of my usual opportunities to people-watch. (Of course, unusual opportunities still show up.)

2020-04-11-KJennings-sketchbook

I’ve posted about using household objects as stand-ins:Sketching the people glimpsed from the corner of your eye, and A discovery of headstrong obstinate girls.

So in an effort to find people going about their daily lives, I tried sketching people in the background of TV shows.

2020-04-11-KJennings-sketchbookMidsomer

Advantages:

  • The background business is frequently less composed and dramatised than the main action (not always).
  • Generally, the full figures are shown.
  • There’s less detail, and so there are fewer distractions from considerations of pose and movement.
  • It’s pacy, especially with rapid-fire changes of camera angle — you have to sketch or lose the moment.
  • Watching just the background actors and extras is frequently delightful, and also a great way to rewatch shows.
  • Keeps my hands busy while watching Midsomer Murders.

Disadvantages:

  • It’s still cast and staged and costumed of course. I want to try this with background views in news or tourism or documentary footage.
  • Sometimes the camera cuts away too quickly — but then, passersby are often lost to view in the ordinary course of affairs.
  • The temptation is there to freeze-frame and sketch, but that would be defeating the whole purpose. (Leading to thoughts about sketching and temporality.)

I have more experiments to try, but this one was quite enjoyable, a pleasant challenge and an excellent excuse to watching the goings-on on Midsomer.

Writing/art exercises:

  • As above — have a sketchbook (or notebook) handy and sketch (or describe) background characters while watching a show (no pausing the show). Concentrate on movement, distinguishing poses, unusual lines — it’s about noticing, and training your eye and hand to communicate people.
  • When watching (more especially when rewatching) a show, pick a background character and imagine the scene or story from their perspective (sketch or write accordingly). I watch Pride and Prejudice with my dad a lot under ordinary circumstances, and much as I love it, I find myself reframing it as a different person’s story each time.
  • When looking at pictures (Pinterest, an art book, a virtual gallery tour), allow yourself to quickly acknowledge the main action. After that, you can only look at the background. What is going on there? Textures? Sidelong glances? Centurions being thrown off cantankerous horses? Tiny gilt angels no bigger than sea-monkeys? (I tried this with a friend once in a Renaissance exhibition and ended up in a very strange conversation? conspiracy theory? with a guard about rabbits in art).