Demolition work in June 2016

Back in June last year when I started this project that I’ve called Drawing The Work, I had no idea quite what might come of it. Four and a half sketchbooks and a pile of looseleaf drawings later, and I realise it’s taken on a life of its own, and it isn’t finished yet. But since this Sunday saw the opening of the display of all my work in Cliffe Castle Museum it seems like a good time to talk a bit about what it’s like to sketch in the park, and how I go about doing it. So what follows is the How, followed by the Why, in two parts. 

1. Practical matters: tools and equipment 
People always seem interested in my sketching kit – well, other sketchers are, anyway – so here’s the chance to see what’s in my bag. (Part one may get a bit technical so if you’re not a sketcher you may want to skip to part 2).

Mini sketching kit in a bag

Essentials: small bag on a strap that I always wear. It’s just big enough to hold 2 or three pens with different inks, sometimes a pencil, 2 waterbrushes (one with water, one with indigo ink diluted about 50:50 with water) a couple of sheets of kitchen paper and my mini-palette (see below).

This is my absolutely basic essential kit and goes with me everywhere – most days I go out with just this little bag and a spiral bound sketchbook. Most of my pens are Lamy Safari, and the one I use the most (and love the best) is the one dangling from the strap on the front of the bag; it’s a Lamy Safari Vista filled with De Atramentis Document ink that’s permanent and waterproof. I have other pens with other colours of ink, some waterproof and some not, and those I vary from day to day. The strap across the front of the bag is mostly for hanging pens on when I’m actually sketching, for easy access and a quick draw (!) and there’s a mini-pocket and a flap-strap with velcro to hold other things, like kitchen paper for blotting and brush cleaning. I don’t often take a water pot with me but usually rely on waterbrushes; although they have their drawbacks they’re incredibly useful especially since I do all my sketching standing up. 

My homemade mini-palette

My homemade mini-palette made from plastic packaging for inter-dental toothbrushes. The watercolour pans are blister packs for indigestion tablets.

I try to keep everything I carry as lightweight as possible so this tiny palette is ideal as it weighs almost nothing. I’ve also added a strap across the back made from 2.5cm masking tape that I can slide a flat stick of rigid card through, and then this gives me a paintbox-on-a-stick, that I can hold in the same hand as my sketchbook:

Paintbox-on-a-stick

Paintbox-on-a-stick – looking a bit battered now. I may have to make a new one soon; the corners started to leak and I patched them up with nail polish. 

I’ve used many different sketchbooks over time but I’ve never got over feeling inhibited by books that have expensive paper. I want to be able to draw fast and fill pages with drawings that may be terrible, especially if I’m warming up after not sketching for a few days, so I use A5 sketchbooks by Crawford and Black which are really cheap, and are spiral bound so that I can open the book right up and fold it round to hold it easily in one hand. In fact the paper is surprisingly good – it works fine for drawing with a pen, and takes light watercolour washes, and I rather like the way watercolour behaves on this paper – washes tend to ‘bloom’ a lot because of the sizing.

A5 Crawford and Black sketchbook

A5 Crawford and Black sketchbook. I reinforce the cover by taping some of the first pages to the inside of it to make it more rigid. 

If I want to do a sketch that’s more painterly in a watercolour way, I use a loose sheet of heavy (300gsm) watercolour paper cut and folded into a concertina-fold strip – this way I can end up doing either a panoramic landscape view, or a series of sketches related to each other that make up a story. 

Panoramic sketch of the old toilet block

Panoramic sketch of the old toilet block on a concertina-fold sheet of watercolour paper

I’ve already mentioned that I do all my sketching standing up. There are several reasons for this; firstly I’m more comfortable that way, and also I’ve noticed that people don’t come up and peer at what you’re drawing as much if you’re standing rather than sitting. I don’t mind this and I like talking but it can be a bit distracting, and more importantly I need to get into exactly the right place to get the best view of what I’m drawing which often means walking about and moving frequently from one place to another, especially if I’m sketching work that’s in action. This is fine, but standing in one place to do a drawing for more than ten minutes gets tiring. Holding a sketchbook in one hand like this can be a strain. So I have an adaptable contraption like a tray with a strap, that supports my sketchbook and takes the weight of it off my arm. The strap goes round my back and over my shoulder, like a guitar strap, and the whole thing is held together with binder-clips. 

Wearable drawing-board with a strap

Wearable drawing-board with a strap, made from two hardback A4 desk-diaries with all the paper removed, and only the hard binders remaining. Overlapping and clipped together they can make a longer rectangular shaped board…

Wearable drawing-board with a strap, unassembled

…. when unclipped, the two A4 binders sit next to each other to make them more compact to carry about. 

I carry all this stuff in a cotton bag with a long strap that I can sling across me to walk easily, and I’ve become easily identifiable at a distance because of this bag. I don’t know if this is a good thing or not – it means I can’t easily sneak up on people and draw without being noticed… 

Cotton carrying bag

Cotton carrying bag, not rain proof, so I have a plastic carrier bag in it just in case.

I always have my phone camera with me and I do sometimes take reference shots, to remind me about colour if I add watercolour later at home – I sometimes do this if there isn’t time to paint on the spot or if there’s a lot of rapid complicated work going on, just so I catch anything that happens a bit too fast to sketch. But I do this as little as possible and I seldom actually draw from photos. I find this quite hard to do as I’m not really seeing the thing itself but just an image of it, and it feels unresponsive. The exception is if I want to do a recognisable and careful portrait of someone, and then a photo helps. 

Michael Scarborough, of The Friends of Cliffe Castle and the Conservation Group

Michael Scarborough, of The Friends of Cliffe Castle and the Conservation Group, at the occasion of the raising of the dome on the glasshouses

This pretty much sums up the how, but then there’s the why.  

2. Why Draw? And Why Cliffe Castle? 

People sketch for different reasons, all individual, all of them valid. I can only talk about why I do it, and there are two reasons; one is to record – actually it would be better to say witness – and the other is to understand, discover, and connect. Something happens when you stand in front of a thing and draw it that is quite different from simply looking at it or taking a photograph of it; sketching is an encounter, and after drawing something you have a relationship with it that you didn’t have before, and that you’ll never forget. This is what Urban Sketching is about. 

I first discovered the Urban Sketchers movement back in 2015 and it’s had a huge influence on my drawing. Realising that there are people all over the world who have the same compulsion to sketch from life as I do, and being able to see their work online and share mine as well has been absolutely life changing. Without this feeling of being part of a sketching community I would never have had the confidence to start my sketching project Drawing The Work, and as it’s gone on I’ve had so much encouragement and support – especially from Yorkshire Sketchers. 

And I can’t talk about Urban Sketchers without mentioning  Richard Johnson, news illustrator and Urban Sketcher whose extraordinary drawings – and writing – have made such an impact on me. Rather than try to explain what his work is like I’ll leave it for you to discover yourself; have at a look at Why We Draw and you’ll see what I mean. 

Cliffe Castle is on my doorstep, which means I’m extremely lucky to have such good sketching opportunities close enough for me to reach. My condition with ME/CFS means I can’t make long excursions but I can get to the park almost every day. The Parks Department and Museum staff have been an enormous help, always interested and encouraging and ready to give me time to answer questions (sometimes very long lists of them) and now and again take me on supervised tours of the building site. 

So, special thanks to Dan Palmer the Heritage Officer (seen above, one grey and muddy day back in March), Mel Smith the Parks Manager (who I have yet to sketch – I promise I will!), Dave Bennison the Parks Technical Officer, Daru Rooke the Museum Manager (it was Daru and Dave who first made contact with me when I was sketching them peering excitedly into an excavation at the site of the pond) and Geri Abruzzese (whose job title I’m not sure of, but who always seems to be around in the Gardener’s Lodge whenever I need something). And a very big thank you to Kirsty Gaskin the curator at the museum who has made such an exceptional job of the exhibition of my sketches. 

Thank you all, for reading. And as always, do get in touch if you’d like to – leave a comment here below this post or send me a message through my contact page. 

If you’re already a sketcher, happy sketching – and if you’re not, why not give it a try? 

Deborah 

Advertisements