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For your wedding day, turn to the pen, not the lens

By West Country Life  |  Posted: January 04, 2014

  • Sarah Godsill's sketches capture a 'moment in time', often a special event like a wedding, above. Sarah also draws a series of images to recreate something happening and adds comments too, right. She says: 'The pressure is that I'm never quite sure of what I've got until the event has finished – it's like having an undeveloped film. I usually do about 20 sheets of line drawings and then colour them in later' Main pictures: Clare Green

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They say every picture tells a story, and when Sarah Godsill puts a fine-tipped ink pen to paper her drawings provide a tale about memorable moments in people's lives.

The Frome-based artist specialises in illustrating events, and she can be found with sketchbook in hand at occasions such as weddings, christenings and birthday parties, creating whimsical images that are often accompanied by quotations.

"It's another way of telling a story. I aim to capture the essence of the day," Sarah says of her art, as we sit in her studio amid a colourful array of pens, brushes and crayons.

"My drawings work well alongside wedding photographs, as often photographers aren't allowed to take pictures during a wedding service, but I can sit quietly sketching away."

Sarah recently used her artistic and observational talents to do more than provide a unique visual memoir for one young girl and her family.

She held a 24-hour sponsored "Sketch-a-thon" to raise funds and awareness for the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT), which supports families and individuals affected by Retinoblastoma, the medical name for cancer of the retina, the light-sensitive lining of the eye.

This condition has affected three-year-old Darcey Fryer-Bovill, whose parents Ali and Alistair commissioned Sarah to illustrate their wedding four years ago, and went on to become friends with her.

Sarah explains: "When Darcey was about six months old they noticed a sort of glow in her right eye, but didn't realise it was anything to worry about until it was spotted by someone they know who had read an article about eye cancer when she was on The Tube."

Darcey underwent several months of chemotherapy, and initially it seemed that her eye would be saved. But then, after being stable for ten months, the cancer reappeared and her eye had to be removed last year to ensure the cancer did not spread further.

"To begin with she found it difficult to balance with just one eye, and she fell over a lot, but she has adjusted so well and has been so brave," says Sarah.

"I wanted to do something to help. I knew I couldn't manage to do anything like friends of ours who had swum the Channel, but I thought that I can draw.

"It seemed a bit lame because it wasn't really a physical challenge, so I decided to make it more demanding by doing a sponsored 24-hour Sketch-a-thon."

Sarah worked from 9am to 9pm on a table at the Garden Café in Frome, which her studio is located above, and then when the café closed she spent the next 13 hours drawing in her studio. By the time she had finished her challenge, she had produced 27 drawings, many of which were for people who had sponsored her to create a work of art for them based on a photo of their choice, such as a landscape or their children.

Before she embarked on her Sketch-a-thon, Sarah produced a collection of drawings depicting the day when she accompanied Darcey and her parents when they travelled from their home in Hampton, south-west London, to Moorfield's Eye Hospital in London.

"We went to see a man called Peter Coggin who makes prosthetic eyes for children," says Sarah.

"He does an incredible job of matching the colours to the real eye. If you didn't know Darcey has a glass eye then you would easily not notice it," says Sarah.

"I spent a whole day with Darcey and her parents as a prelude to the sponsored sketching day, and put the images on my page on the JustGiving website.

"Her mother, Ali, who is a teacher, is so philosophical about it. She says that at least Darcey has only lost one eye. During their visits to Moorfields they have met children who have lost both eyes, and have seen siblings being treated at the same time."

Sarah, who is married to Jez and has a son Louis, 13, and a daughter Poppy, 10, took a degree in fine art at what was then Newcastle Polytechnic, where Jez was also a student doing a degree in 3D design.

The couple then spent a few years living in Scotland, before coming to Frome 17 years ago, after seeing an advert in an art magazine from someone in the Somerset town who wanted tenants for six months.

"We fell in love with Frome, and also loved the fact that there seemed to be so many other like-minded people here," recalls Sarah.

"It was very different to how it is now. St Catherine's Hill was pretty much boarded up, and often shops opened up only to shut again quite quickly. Frome has always seemed a little bit quirky and slightly out of the mainstream, and it's been wonderful to see how it has transformed over the years. Whenever we have visitors who haven't been here before you see it through their eyes. The other day we had people over from Venezuela, and I felt so proud because they absolutely fell in love with the place."

When Sarah first moved to Frome with Jez, she was doing illustrations for two of the big card companies, Medici and Woodmansterne.

"I was doing cake pictures, and having a great time painting cakes and then eating them," she says.

She expanded into setting up her Events Illustration company about 15 years ago, after realising that she was constantly producing sketches that remained largely unseen in her sketchbooks.

"It seemed such a waste that I was doing all these sketches but they were not getting out, and it occurred to me that a solution would be to do sketches at weddings," she says.

"I've done weddings, christenings, parties such as 50th birthdays, and I've even drawn at a funeral. I go all over the country, I've been up to Gretna Green and over to Sussex and Cambridge.

"I've always loved the way you can capture a moment in time through a sketch. For the first two years of my son's life I drew him every day – I wanted to record those fleeting moments that can be gone so quickly."

Doesn't she mind people looking over her shoulder to see what she is doing when she is sketching at an event?

Sarah replies: "I don't mind – I'm quite shy and it's nice when people come up and show an interest in what I'm doing.

"Even now I find it terrifying to be looking at a big, empty sketchbook – I say to myself things like 'It will be OK once the ceremony is done', but then after that I'll saying 'It will be ok once all the cars have gone'.

"The pressure is that I'm never quite sure of what I've got until the event has finished – it's like having an undeveloped film.

"I usually do about 20 sheets of line drawings and then colour them in later. When I started I would do series of completed colour drawings on the day, but I have found this way to be more productive.

"People do all sorts of things with them. I've seen them hung in frames, or they can be bound by a local bookbinder. I also offer an option of a single sheet of images depicting weddings I haven't attended, using photos that have been sent to me.

"When I'm drawing at weddings, I dress as a guest and try to be part of the occasion.

"Each wedding has its own unique style, which is very much a reflection of the personalities of the bride and groom. I like to put in comment as well as the images. I'm not taking anything away from the wedding photos, I think it adds another dimension."

For further information about Sarah Godsill and her work, go to www.eventsillustration.co.uk or go to www.justgiving.com/sarahgodsill. to find out about her fundraising for The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust.

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