Archives for category: Sketchwalks

sketchbook page with notes

Is it good to have a plan?

I’m continually evaluating the things I do when I go out to walk and sketch, and my sketchbook pages often end up with notes to myself that are supposed to make things clearer (which does sometimes help). I find it helps me to have a plan; but ironically at the same time it also helps if I know I’m probably going to drop all these ideas once I’m out in the park and just respond to what’s there.

The big dilemma when going out for a walk with a sketchbook is how much walking to do, and how much sketching. If I go out as I generally do for about an hour, there’s only time for a certain amount of drawing if I’m also going to have a satisfying walk. Take the pages above for example – the line drawing on the left took about 3 or 4 minutes and is really not much more than a diagram but records and identifies a place. The drawing on the right was a bit of a closer investigation of what I’d just discovered and took about 5 to 10 minutes doing just the line work with a pen – I added colour when I got home. The sketch below, of a large beech tree in Moorhouse Wood was done entirely on the spot and took about 20 minutes. That may not sound a lot, but it’s a fairly large chunk out of an hour’s walk. (Sketching with a waterbrush and a tiny palette with just 2 pigments, in this case Paynes grey and Burnt Umber, for cool and warm tones is something I’ve been doing a lot recently).

Monochrome sketch of beech tree in Moorhouse Wood

To try to lessen the dilemma about how much to draw and how much to walk I was suggesting to myself (in the notes under the drawing at the top) that I should go out with the intention to either
a) walk more, stopping now and again to do very quick drawings;
b) walk less, and do fewer, more considered drawings that take more time;
c) a mixture of both, or
d) a flexible combination of all this with the addition of taking photographs whenever I feel like it.

The weather has a big part to play, and so does how well I’m feeling, but I never really know for sure what’s going to happen. Something may catch my eye and before long I’m immersed in drawing, and then before I know it I find I’ve been standing sketching in one place for anything up to 30 minutes. That’s my limit though – I start to get tired and stiff. A sketch like the one below in the Garden of Life took me about that long in the open air and about the same amount of time to finish at home.

Ring of stones in the Garden of Life, Watercolour sketch

It amuses me that I both like to plan ahead but at the same time to know I’m not going to stick to it. Some days I come back with several pages of sketches, sometimes just one drawing, sometimes a string of photos in my phone and sometimes nothing at all – whatever happens is just fine and it’s important to remember that. It’s what being outdoors is all about – looking, feeling, spotting what’s new, seeing something unremarkable but extraordinary, taking time without thinking. Getting lungfuls of air and feeling the earth under my feet.

Advertisements

One of the things I like best about blogging is reading other people’s blogs. A favourite of mine is The Perimeter by photographer Quintin Lake, an ongoing record of his long-distance exploratory walk around the British Isles. I love his choice of subjects and the way he frames his stunning shots, and his often wry humour is a delight. I would love to be able to tramp about the countryside (or the urban environment come to that) noticing and recording what I pass – though a walk on this scale would always have been beyond me.

I started to play with the idea of doing a perimeter walk of Cliffe Castle Park, sketching as I went (this being the extent of what I’m realistically capable of, spread over days or weeks or even months) – but not sticking slavishly to the edges. Like Quintin I’ll move inwards a bit here and there where necessary. And to make things more confusing I’ve not begun with a location that’s an obvious place to start as this is not at one of the gates – though it’s very near to the Holly Lodge entrance.

Two girls sitting on the wall in the Sensory Garden in dappled sunlight, one playing guitar

The Sensory Garden is still, like so much of the park, a work in progress – but it’s taking shape. The pre-existing raised beds are being planted with herbs, shrubs and plants that all have particular things to offer in the way of texture, scent and colour so that the senses of touch and smell will be as much a part of the experience as the ability to see, and at a height where touching and sniffing are a more natural and easy thing to do. I love this idea, and I found it interesting on this warm sunny afternoon that two girls had chosen to sit on the edge of one of the raised beds amongst the plants in the border, rather than finding a bench. Actually I notice this not-sitting-on-a-seat is quite a common thing in the park, and it struck me as I was drawing that I often do it myself – choose a spot, irrespective of whether there’s something there that’s designed for sitting on. It has to do with knowing where you want to be, I suppose. Anyway, there they were, in dappled sunlight, playing and singing.

Below the wall where the girls were sitting is the site of what will one day be an orchard – the top part of the enclosed field that stretches from the Sensory Garden down to the Skipton Road has been planted with young fruit trees, helpfully tagged with labels that include QR codes so that I was able to discover that this one is a young Bloody Ploughman. Perhaps another addition to the sensory experience will be taste! A little further down the field and stretches of grass have been left uncut to be little oases of wildflowers (this whole field has in the past been allowed to grow as a natural wildflower meadow) and there are grasses and clover, poppies and dandelions, dock and sorrel blowing in the breeze and the buzz of flying insects.

This journey of mine will be sporadic and most likely non-linear – I’ll probably jump about from place to place without following a regular clockwise or anti-clockwise route – but it’ll take me to parts of the park that I visit less often, and also demonstrate what an extraordinarily varied place it is. For its size it has an enormous range of different kinds of place – it’s truly a park of many parts.

I love learning. I love going back to basics, doing exercises, practising. There’s no moment in any lifetime of art practice when drawing exercises aren’t a great thing to do – I really ought to do things like this more often.

We’ve had two Sketchwalks at Cliffe Castle Park now – the first one had to be rescheduled because of snow and I couldn’t get to it, but yesterday I was able to take part. It was refreshing, incredibly useful, and a lot of fun.

Louise Garrett led both workshops and we had an enthusiastic group of Sketchers on both days. The first session concentrated mainly on contour and line, and then looked briefly at tonal values – these are just a few of the drawings done on that day:

The second session was a chance to have a good look at composition, simplifying how we see when we’re sketching on location and exploring ways to organise what we draw in the best possible way. Louise had made us all adjustable cardboard viewfinders! We used them in a variety of different exercises and discovered what an incredibly useful thing this simple tool can be.

One of the things Louise asked us to do was to look at an earlier sketch we’d done previously in the glasshouses, and then draw the same object from various angles using a viewfinder. I had a sketch of a hanging cactus in my sketchbook that I’d done a few weeks ago, so I advanced on the same plant viewfinder in hand, and very quickly realised that if I’d had this handy tool with me when I drew it before, things would have gone much more smoothly from the start.

Hanging cactus, sketchbook page

Hanging cactus, viewfinder thumbnails

In fact, with the viewfinder I’d have been able to tackle the crazy angles of the clothes-airer that the cactus hangs from without getting all despairing about it.

Lastly, I made an effort to try to record as many of our group as I could with a quick scribble – hoping it would also help me remember everyone’s names.

Sketchwalk participants examining their cardboard viewfinders

Another pair of Sketchwalks will be happening later this Spring, and judging by the way the first two sessions went and the response we’ve had they’ll be well attended. Sketching on location is getting increasingly popular and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a complete beginner or a sketcher with a lifetime’s experience – these sort of practice sessions are a real boost, and a great way to explore drawing and enjoy it in the company of others.

Ever thought you might like to join in and try sketching in the glasshouses and the park at Cliffe Castle?

Ferns in a hanging watering can, in the glasshouses Cliffe Castle

Louise Garrett and I are planning a series of Sketchwalks at Cliffe Castle. They’ll be a kind of cross between what Urban Sketchers call a sketchcrawl (a fairly informal get-together at a prearranged spot to meet, sketch and enjoy each others company) – and a guided workshop.

We’ll be welcoming Sketchers of all levels of ability and experience – even those who have never sketched before but who’d like to – and exploring sketching skills in the newly opened glasshouses and around the park. A bonus is that the café in the glasshouses is now open!

The sessions will be led by Louise, and the first is on Wednesday February 28th, from 10.30 – 12.30.

The Sketchwalks are being supported by the Parks Dept and Cliffe Castle Conservation Group and are being advertised locally to anyone interested in sketching. They’ll be in sets of 2, the first set Feb 28th and March 14th, and the second set May 16th and May 30th. Numbers have to be limited, due to the workshop format and space limitations – so if you’re interested, more information is on Facebook here – and if you’d like to reserve a place, email cliffe.castle.park@bradford.gov.uk – and you’ll get your place confirmed.