Archives for category: Art Practice

Not too long ago I was sketching up at the glasshouse terrace, the only part of the park that was still a building site. Walls were being built at the edge of the walkway that will curve along the front of the animal houses and aviary, and I was watching (and sketching) a skillful bit of bricklaying. After a while the bricklayer stopped to go off in search of something and as he passed me in the carpark he asked what I was doing, so I explained. (It seems he hadn’t been working on the site all that long and hadn’t seen me before). 

The conversation went like this:

Bricklayer: Are you an artist?
Me: Yes. I’ve been drawing this project since the beginning….
Short pause.
Bricklayer, thoughtfully: Only difference is, I draw with a trowel, and you draw with a pencil. 

I liked this, and wrote it down – though I didn’t really need to write it to remember it. It says a lot about what drawing is. Of course bricks (or Yorkshire stone) aren’t a sketchbook and a wall isn’t a drawing, but a trowel is a tool just as much as a pencil or a pen, and bricklaying and drawing both require eye/hand co-ordination and a lot of practice. When you do a lot of it and practise often, you get better at it and it more often goes well. Not always – and I imagine bricklayers have good days and bad days just as a sketcher does, though the consequences of a bad bricklaying day could be more serious and long lasting than the times that I do wonky unsatisfactory drawings. I can just turn the page and start another sketch, and try not to mind when things don’t go right – though it’s a fact that I never get over the feeling of uneasiness whenever this happens. After days of not drawing, when I need a lot of warming up before anything will flow there’s always a small sinking feeling, a nagging little voice that says you’ve lost it, it’s never going to go right. It does come right, eventually, after a fair bit of exercise, but it always feels the same. 

I was talking about this with a sketcher-friend of mine recently, Louise Garrett, and she had what I think is the brilliant idea of carrying a rough book around as well as a current sketchbook. Something to scribble in and do quick drawings with lots and lots of looking, lots of warming up. Drawing is like dancing, or singing. It’s a physical-neuralogical-emotional thing, and you have to respect that and be patient. And just do the work. 

My ‘Drawing The Work’ project and the exhibition now on in Cliffe Castle are going to be the focus of the October session of Bradford Museums’ ‘Responses to Art’ programme – this coming Thursday, 5th October, 10.30 – 3.00. Very unfortunately I’m not going to be able to be there myself, but Joe Bean from Yorkshire Urban Sketchers is going to come along and talk about Urban Sketching – and hopefully bring lots of examples of his own work. Joe loves building sites just as much as I do and draws them brilliantly – he’s just done a wonderful series of sketches of the demolition of the historic South Stand at Headingley Stadium. I’m thrilled that people will be able to see his work at Cliffe Castle and have a chance to hear him explain what Urban Sketching is all about – like me Joe is a passionate urban sketcher! 

Anyone interested in going along on Thursday should ring Cliffe Castle to book a place, on 01535 618231. It should be an interesting day! 

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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 

Cliffe Castle Park in Keighley is being restored with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Work started on site back in June 2016 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

Finishing the animal enclosures

Everywhere in the park things are taking shape and getting nearer to completion, and even though there’s still a lot to be done, every day there are signs that we’re in the final stages. The animal enclosures and the aviary have now been constructed and the back wall is clearly visible (with work still going on) behind the Grotto – which has now been fully cleared of its tangle of ivy, and has a smart new pair of Victorian style street lights. You can now see the steps of the aerial walkway that climbed from the cave up and across to the flower gardens behind the castle (I haven’t drawn these right, because in my sketch they don’t seem to end up in the cave as they should – the sunlight was very bright that afternoon and the shadows too dark for me to make it out properly). 

The Rose Garden

Beneath the bank of rhododendrons the rose garden has been planted with red and white standard roses in neat lines that look like something straight out of Alice-in-Wonderland, and dainty wooden slatted benches are appearing all over the place, all curvaceous and pretty. (Will they be comfortable? I’m not too sure about this, but time will tell.) 

Glasshouses

Glasshouses and dome

The glasshouses are still getting finishing touches but at least we can see them properly now the hoardings have been removed. A chance for me to try drawing the dome, and make a mess of it – I got all the elipses wrong and the proportions aren’t right either, even after a couple of attempts – but there’ll be plenty of opportunities to practise from now on!

Cherub on the north fountain

And at long last the fountains are complete, cherubs and all. I wish now that I’d had the chance to sketch the top bits before they were hoisted up and fixed in place because actually it’s quite hard to see all the detail, as they’re so high up – but they look lovely.

Cherub on the south fountain

Next Sunday is the Cliffe Castle Garden Party – not the official opening of the completed park as was originally planned (this will happen at a later date) but a chance to celebrate everything that’s happened so far, and with work going on at the speed we’re seeing now, there’ll be plenty more finishing touches ready by then….


More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.

Cliffe Castle Park in Keighley is being restored with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Work started on site back in June 2016 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

It’s now more than a year since work started in the park and we’re past the deadline for completion, but with a project of this scale these things can happen.

This means that the Grand Opening Event on July 30th has had to be trimmed down accordingly and won’t be the full-blown celebration that was originally planned; instead it’ll be a day of music and other attractions, re-titled the Cliffe Castle Garden Party. But for me, the fact that work is still going on means there are still interesting stories unfolding and lots still to record. 

Lowering the carved dolphin support onto the fountain base

The restored marble fountains are being put back together, and I caught the act of lowering the carved dolphin support and fixing it into place on the north fountain. These structures are like tiered wedding cakes – two great dishes one on top of the other supported by carved middle sections, topped off by carved cherubs (which had been badly damaged – one was missing a head, and the other was riding a headless goose. Or swan? You can see the whole post I did on the unrestored fountains here.) 

Fountain before restoration

Fountain before restoration in 2016

It was exciting to see the cleaned up dolphins back, and interesting to watch as holes were drilled in the marble so the whole piece could be pinned in place on top of the first dish with stainless steel threaded rods. The blue pipes that supply water up to the top of the fountain had to be carefully threaded through each section…but before that could happen the crane had to carefully raise and lower the thing into place. Guiding it into position was a two man job and the best way to grasp hold of it was generally one hand firmly in a dolphin’s open mouth… 

Drilling holes and lowering the dolphins into placeThreading water pipes through dolphins Quite tricky, as the dolphins all have to end up facing in exactly the right direction. 

Then it was all about making sure everything was level and perfectly upright…. and in a day or so the next section will be going up. Before long now we’ll see the fountains looking as they once were – and I can’t wait to see water spouting and gushing and overflowing! 

In the meantime I hope I catch more of these moments as the restoration story continues. It’s easy to miss – and often things happen before I know it and take me by surprise. This was a lucky day. 




More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.

As part of the Grand Opening Event at the end of July, I’m excited to say that Cliffe Castle Museum are going to be putting on an exhibition of all my sketchbooks and drawings from the Drawing The Work sketching project! 

Kirsty Gaskin the curator has come up with a really clever plan for the exhibit – to have a static display with the drawings and sketchbooks behind glass with the pages turned over day by day, but also to make two facsimile sketchbooks for people to handle and look through. I think this is a real brainwave, and I’m so lucky to have the museum putting all this into action. 
I’m absolutely delighted about the exhibit because I hope it can demonstrate how sketching can be a really unique and exciting way to record a project of this sort – and I’d love to encourage more people to do it. It’s been interesting to realise over the course of the restoration project just how how my sketching has had unexpected benefits – not just for me, but also for the Conservation Group, the museum, for workers on the site and for visitors to the park (- I’ll write a bit more about this later on in another post as it’s something worth exploring). 

While I’m announcing things – I want to say a big thank you to Yorkshire Urban Sketchers and to the international Urban Sketchers movement for all their inspiration, support and encouragement, because without them I would never have started any of this, let alone been able to carry it through. 

The Grand Opening is on Sunday 30th July, and will be an extraordinary Victorian themed day with some amazing attractions – follow the link to the announcement on Facebook and more details will be posted nearer the time. Posters are already up in the park. Put the date in your diaries!  

More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.

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At long last, work on the restoration project to restore and relandscape the grounds at Cliffe Castle is under way. As I’m often prowling around up there with a sketchbook and do love watching what’s going on, I seem to have become a sort of unofficial Works Artist. Not that I can in any way do it justice – but I’m going to try to record as much as I can, and it’s wonderful drawing practice. Watch this space, and I’ll put up bulletins when I can.

Permanent waterproof ink for a fountain pen is an essential part of my sketching kit. For a long time I used just Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, which is a good waterproof ink – and then I discovered De Atramentis Document Inks that are available in black and a series of colours. These inks are a pleasure to use because they flow so well, never seem to clog or dry up in the pen, and are reliably waterproof.

Now there’s a third choice, Rohrer and Klingner Document Ink stocked in the UK by The Writing Desk. These inks state that they are ‘Permanent and waterproof inks suitable for all fountain pens, certified to ISO 12757-2. Water, light, alcohol and bleach resistant.’ I’ve been testing them against Noodler’s Black, and De Atramentis black and coloured inks.

Cat drawing, ink and wash

Cat; Rohrer and Klingner Black Document ink in a Lamy Safari fountain pen, with watercolour wash.

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Toadstools; Noodler’s Bulletproof Black ink and watercolour

Teddy Bears Picnic, ink and wash drawing

Teddy Bears’ Picnic; De Atramentis Document Ink Brown with watercolour wash

I decided to run tests to compare:
a) how the blacks vary in colour,
b) how resistant they are to water,
c) how well they flow in the pen and if there’s any tendency to dry or clog, and
d) how they feel in use – how freely they flow on the paper.

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Testing for resistance to water on ‘challenging’ paper where I knew the ink would tend to lift

a) Colour: De Atramentis and Rohrer and Klingner are both rich intense blueish blacks; of the two I’d say the R & K is slightly darker. Noodler’s is warmer, more of a charcoal black.

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Testing for water resistance on ‘reliable’ paper where ink seldom lifts with a wash of water – though Noodler’s can be unpredictable! Plus a test of a mix of R & K mixed grey, Light Blue with a drop of black.

b) Water resistance: both Noodler’s and De Atramentis achieve resistance to water by reacting to the cellulose in the paper, and I believe that Rohrer and Klingner inks use the same chemistry though I haven’t been able to find any technical information to verify this. Although all three inks are waterproof, this varies according to the paper so I did the first tests on paper I knew would be challenging, and a second set on paper that usually accepts the ink well. I did tests applying water over the ink immediately (the right hand columns on my test diagram) and then after about an hour (the columns on the left). Of the three the De Atramentis came out top, with R & K a very close second and Noodler’s third. On the ‘challenging’ paper you can see the ink has lifted and bled a fair bit in some cases; on my regular ink-friendly paper the Noodler’s still lifts a bit (OK, actually it surprised me and bled a lot – it’s more unpredictable than I’d thought) and the Rohrer and Klingner pretty much stays put, and so does the De Atramentis.

c) Flow in the pen: a lot of people report problems with Noodler’s ink drying in the pen or with it not flowing well, and although in my Lamy Safari I’ve never had this trouble I have found it a problem in a Sailor pen. (I now use De Atramentis in this and it’s a huge improvement). I tried the R & K in a Preppy pen as well as my Lamy Safari and found the black tends to dry in the nib a bit, so that when I came to start drawing after not using the pen for a while the ink wouldn’t flow until I got it going. (Rohrer and Klingner do tell you always to replace the cap of your pen when not in use, and I always do this anyway, with any pen). The coloured inks don’t seem to be so inclined to dry in the nib – the Light Blue in my Preppy pen behaved impeccably.

d) Flow on the paper: the Rohrer and Klingner inks are a joy to use. Like De Atramentis Document ink they feel wet and smooth as they slide onto the page and flow consistently so that drawing with them is a real pleasure and they performed well in all the pens I used to test with – the Lamy Safari, the Sailor with fude nib, and a Preppy.
imageI painted a quick colour chart of the R & K range and was able to compare the brown with the De Atramentis Document brown (which I use a lot); the Rohrer and Klingner is darker and cooler, the De Atramentis warmer and more orange (which I like, for drawing).
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Finally, I realised that the Light Blue would make a lovely soft blue /grey with a touch of black added to it. From the colour charts online this Light Blue looks paler and slightly cooler than the De Atramentis Blue. I wonder how this mixture would compare to De Atramentis Fog Grey – (which I don’t have but would like to get). I’ve now mixed a small amount of black into the blue so I can try it in a pen.

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Trying my mixed grey R & K ink in a Preppy pen – drawing some little bottles of liquid acrylic and then painting with watercolour. I wanted an even paler line colour than this – I overdid the amount of black I added to the ink mix – an easy mistake to make!

Conclusions:
I’m impressed with the Rohrer and Klingner inks. They’re smooth flowing, very resistant to water and the colours are lovely. I particularly like the Light Blue because it mixes with black to make such a nice pale blueish grey. The black is beautifully luscious, rich and dark and flows nicely in the pen, and my only concern is that it doesn’t always start to flow straight away when the pen hasn’t been used for a while. I don’t know what would happen if you left a pen unused for several days or even weeks – I haven’t had the inks long enough to try this out.
Will I be using them? I certainly want to go on drawing with the light grey mix I’ve made, so the Light Blue is on my shopping list. The other colours are probably not really useful for me personally, but they’re tempting. As for the black, apart from mixing small quantities of it with Light Blue I’ll probably stick with De Atramentis Document Black, as it does everything I want it to do – but I’d happily use the Rohrer and Klingner Document Black as a replacement, and from now on Noodler’s Bulletproof Black is a fall-back, and going into reserve.

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Inspired by Liz Steel’s latest post ‘Lightening My Load’ I just sketched my all time most successful mini-sketching kit. I’m always trying to keep the tools and materials I use down to a minimum. I made this little bag some time ago as a prototype and meant to make a better one more carefully from superior materials (this is blue cotton needlecord) but it’s worked so well I’ve still not got round to making another. I carry it everywhere I go. It’s just big enough to carry 4 pens, a pencil, a brushpen, a waterbrush and a tiny homemade palette – 6 watercolour pans made from bits of an empty Rennies blister pack, filled with Winsor and Newton tube paint and stuck into an empty bit of plastic packaging with a folding lid (origin unknown – I think it originally had interdental brushes in it).

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I wear this small bag slung across me on a long (detachable) strap but occasionally change this to a shorter one so the bag hangs round my neck at chest height. Perhaps the best part is that pens can be clipped onto the strap that runs across the front, so they’re ready for a ‘quick-draw’ (no pun intended) – and this also solves the problem of where to put the top of the pen when drawing, if like me you don’t like the balance of a pen with the top stuck on the other end.

Having a small and simple piece of equipment that does exactly what I need it to do in a reliable uncomplicated way makes me strangely happy.

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This summer I’ve been drawing people more than ever before, whenever I’ve had the chance – and athough I find it compelling (it’s becoming addictive), I still find it quite intimidating, particularly when I’m sketching in a crowded place. I’m always anxious that someone won’t like being drawn and I don’t want to make anyone uneasy or uncomfortable, though I have to admit that actually this seems to happen fairly infrequently.

I thought the Teddy Bears’ Picnic at Cliffe Castle this week would be full of sketching opportunities, and I certainly found plenty of unselfconscious children (both with and without teddies), alongside a lot of slightly less comfortable adults (also with and without bears).

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I’d also hoped to find interesting subjects amongst the bears themselves, but especially at first they proved to be elusive as many of them were small and the picnicking groups were spread out, so to begin with I warmed up by drawing the first group I could watch unobtrusively even though there were no visible teddy bears.
I wasn’t feeling terribly well that day and this made me even more nervous, but as usual once I’d started drawing I stopped being aware of anything else.

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Feeling more relaxed I wandered over to a spot that was dotted with picnic blankets spread on the grass where families and bears were having lunch, and I sat myself down under a tree.

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I’d imagined that I’d have the chance to do some studies of individual bears, but I quickly discovered that teddies don’t stay in one place for long when they’re accompanied by their owners. However as the afternoon wore on tiredness set in, and I was able to find one or two interesting characters who’d been left to relax on their own.

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The party was gatecrashed by a few non-bears. Just in front of where I was sitting a couple of soft fleecy dinosaurs spent a quiet half hour dozing, and I spotted several fluffy individuals that looked to me as if they might be rabbits. No-one seemed to mind. I wished I’d brought my rat.

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I’ve been sketching people quite a bit lately and mostly while they’re moving about, which is a challenge, to put it mildly – but it’s what I want to draw more than anything else at the moment.

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I find it irresistible and at the same time frustratingly hard. I realise that I’ve forgotten much of what I knew about figure drawing and it’s such a long time since I attended a life drawing class – which I’d love to do again – but in the meantime I want to understand more about how bodies move – what really happens for example, when we walk? There’s nothing like direct observation – watching and drawing as much as possible is the best way to improve – but I don’t have enough opportunity.

I trawled the internet, and after a few red-herrings and blind alleys I came across this tutorial from Elfwood, called Figure Drawing: Basic Pose and Construction.

It’s really designed to help animators and graphic artists but it’s a good step-by-step workout to help you understand how the body is constructed and connected, and how it moves, and it’s all about using stick-figures, or what we used to call pin-men.

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This is where it all became a lot of fun. I hadn’t drawn stick-figures for years, and I’d forgotten how expressive they can be. But this lesson takes you further than just those rather stiff little pin-men everyone loves to draw, and introduces an advanced species of figures that have shoulders and pelvises, who have all the major human joints and a bit of spring and curve in the spine. Before long they’re capering about across the page and doing things you recognise but would have struggled to draw. I was hooked.

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The next step is to flesh them out and give them a bit of substance, and here I’ve departed a bit from the tutorial which sticks to a more geometrical approach with simple cylinders for the trunk and limbs, but I was in a hurry to get my little tribe looking a bit more lifelike. They took on a life of their own remarkably quickly.

The question of whether all this helps when drawing real people from life was answered for me when the boiler repair men came and I drew them surreptitiously from behind while they were working. One of them was stretching and peering and grappling with the boiler while the other watched, and I realised I could sum up each movement rapidly in my head as if I was looking at a stick-figure with clothes on.

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This is them, on the left and right of the page (though not at the top left – they didn’t arrive holding a flag on a pole or hopping on one leg -) and although baggy combat trousers don’t help show off what the legs underneath are doing, stick-figures really helped me see what his whole body was doing as it moved – even if I didn’t have any idea about what he was doing to the boiler.