Archives for category: Drawing

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.

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Scales for weighing individual gooseberries, circa 1870. Cliffe Castle Museum.

Scales for weighing individual gooseberries, circa 1870. Cliffe Castle Museum.

I love drawing in museums. I think this fascination with strange objects goes right back to my childhood, because I remember at the age of about 7 or 8 I created a tiny museum of my own in the Wendy House my father had built for us at the bottom of the garden. It had an odd assortment of things on display, each carefully labelled – an elephant’s tooth paper-weight, a stone age scraping tool made of flint (I found this on the North Downs near our home) several disassembled owl-pellets (collected and examined by my sister and me) and a small clay hippopotamus with a gaping mouth displaying my own teeth, thoughtfully returned by the tooth-fairy. There was an obvious bias towards natural history, but also a preoccupation with oddities – probably influenced by our occasional visits to Potter’s Museum in Bramber, on the South Downs in Sussex.

Vintage photo of Potter’s Museum at Bramber: Photograph: Dr Pat Morris/ Joanna Ebenstein

It was an extraordinary place, very unlike the museum in our county town of Maidstone (where my flint tool was authenticated) or the Natural History Museum in London, which I also came to love. Potter’s Museum was dark and crowded to overflowing with indescribably strange things many of which were weird and slightly grisly. We loved it.

Sketchbook page of drawings done in the natural history gallery at Cliffe Castle a couple of years ago when I was exploring the idea of drawing things I’m frightened of, like spiders. (Skeletons don’t worry me, and neither do hares – they just happen to be on the same page)

Perhaps this is partly why I enjoy sketching in Cliffe Castle Museum so much – not just because I love exploring by drawing and it’s a treasure-trove of things waiting to be discovered – but because somewhere in the dark reaches of my memory there are misty recollections of things like a stuffed giant albatross, and an elephant’s foot waste-paper bin……

Half way through the week I realised I might actually make the 100 tally – it’s now Friday afternoon and I’m over 80, so I might just get there.

I’ve been sketching from the TV a lot. News programmes feel almost like drawing from life, but no matter what I’m watching I fairly often miss vital features. So eyes get left out, or mouths….

But it’s a great way to observe an extraordinary range of different faces, even if they do move about at an unnerving pace and then suddenly disappear altogether.

It’s made me realise how much I need to study the shape of eyes and mouths, from different angles and in different expressions. Fascinating.

And of course I’ve been drawing outdoors as well, in the park. Thursday was snow in the morning, and cold bright Spring sunshine in the afternoon.

I know I’m learning a lot from all this – mostly I’m discovering what I find hard and what I really need to work on – but it’s so enjoyable. I think for now I’m not going to worry about what needs improving, and just go on enjoying myself for the rest of the week.

It’s that time of year again – the 1 Week 100 People sketching challenge.

I’m not going to stress myself by trying too hard to hit the target of 100 people, although you never know – but I haven’t been sketching fast enough or for long enough. But for me that’s not really the point – I’m getting a lot of practice – and I’m using the challenge to sketch in different ways. Some more successful than others – but all fun.

I sketch a lot from the TV – anything I happen to be watching, news broadcasts, dramas, documentaries, films. People moving are a lot more interesting to draw than people caught in a still photo, and there’s such a huge variety of faces and expressions.

But then there’s always the challenge of doing a bit of a portrait study from a photo, and I realised I’m not even restricted to drawing living people – so here’s Robert Browning, from an incredible portrait photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron. The drawing doesn’t do the photograph justice – he’s actually far more charismatic and doesn’t look half as pale and worried.

I’d said I would draw from images of the students who survived the Florida school shooting and who have been campaigning for gun control and I have a number of photos that I intended to sketch, but today when I looked at them I felt very reluctant to use them in this way. I may come back to them but it doesn’t feel right at the moment. Instead I drew from a photo of two young armed women police officers who were patrolling the area around the school just after the shooting.

Impossible to record everything I felt as I sketched this; I haven’t caught the complexity of emotion on their faces but there was so much there – anxiety, determination, shock, and a sort of stoicism and sense of duty. I couldn’t help but be struck by the amount of arms and weaponry they carry which seems overwhelming, and the fact that they both look so young. I felt it shows a lot, too, about the way an incident like this traumatises the whole community and what a burden of responsibility is carried by the police and security services, and also all the teachers and staff at schools across America – who incidentally do not want to be asked to carry guns.

And when I can I sketch from life! The task of nail-cutting, requiring concentration and a lot of movement in the hands, which explains the confused blurriness of fingers.

The week goes on – I’ll post more towards the end of the challenge.

And a technical note: I’d recently ordered some De Atramentis Document Ink Thinner from The Writing Desk and it arrived just in time for me to try it out this week. I love it! You can use it to dilute De Atramentis ink and I’ve mixed this lovely pale grey using blue + brown mixed with thinner. Great possibilities…….

I try to understand things by drawing them. It helps me think.

Since the Parkland school shooting in Florida last week, like everyone who was appalled that this can have happened, again, I’ve watched and listened, wondering – again – how this can be allowed to happen.

This time the aftermath does seem to be different. Those teenagers who huddled in terror, those who witnessed their close friends being killed beside them – are standing up and demanding that things must change, that laws must change, that politicians must stop taking money from the NRA. And they’re speaking with dignity, with clarity, and determination. It takes my breath away. Just look at this video of Cameron Kasky asking Senator Marco Rubio whether he will pledge not to accept NRA donations…. and read the account of it here.

I’ve read a lot about all the nuances behind the gun laws in America, which from over here in Britain seem hard to understand. I believe absolutely in listening to all sides. The one thing I keep coming back to is the thought of children going to school in fear; having to take part in routine drills for procedure when there is an ‘active shooter in the school’. Having to know how to barricade doors and what a kevlar blanket is for. Fear of any kind is pervasive, corrosive, corrupting – it is massively destructive, both in the short term and over a lifetime. And fear feeds other fears, feeds on itself, breeds distrust, does all kinds of dark and damaging things. All that – and of course you may well be shot, or see your fellow students or your teacher killed.

I try to understand by drawing. Sometimes understanding is impossible, but sometimes it’s possible to imagine more accurately that way. It can be a kind of listening.

I can only draw this story from photographs, and through the eyes of whoever took the picture. I won’t draw people in distress whose privacy I’d always respect but anyone demonstrating, debating, putting themselves in the public eye – these people I can try to celebrate. A small way of showing solidarity.

The#OneWeek100People2018 event starts again this year on March 5th. This year you can bet I’ll be drawing some of the people who are saying ‘Never Again’.

Fallen leaves

The days are so short now that the light is often fading by the time I get up to the park, so I’m watching where I put my feet (it’s often muddy) and with my eyes down what I mostly see is the ground. But this is often the best place to look for the most colour and beauty on a dark misty afternoon. I can’t help picking up leaves one after the other just to marvel at them – whole trees look spectacular when they turn gold, as some do – but individually every leaf is a world of beauty. There are so many of them lying around everywhere, making a nuisance of themselves on the paths and lawns and having to be raked and swept up – and yet each one taken separately is so incredibly lovely and every one unique.

Most of the trees have lost their leaves now, and this year some never turned the truly glorious colour we hope for in Autumn anyway, but near the Beechcliffe entrance there are three handkerchief trees that always turn a wonderful golden yellow, and these still glow in the fading light, so yesterday I did a fast sketch of one of them before the cold made me move on.

Handkerchief tree

I did a brisk walk, round to the pond, (enjoying the fountains) up to the Castle (a quick look at the animal houses that are still not finished, but it was too dark there to draw) and over to the playground where there were a few mothers, hands in pockets and coats zipped and buttoned, with children all open coated and un-gloved running about and climbing on things with never a thought for the cold.

Mothers in the playground

It may be damp and cold (and the forecast is for it to get colder) and the afternoons may be short and dark, but out there in the park there’s colour and life in the landscape. 

For a long time now I’ve been thinking of ways I could share the experience of walking about in the park with a sketchbook – not just by showing other people what I do but by giving them the chance to do it themselves, and get to know how it feels. Some months ago I was excited to get together with Louise Garrett – a sketching friend and fellow member of Yorkshire Urban Sketchers – and we started to plan ways we could do this. Last Thursday we ran our first experimental Sketchwalk.

We wanted to make this a welcome-all-comers occasion, something that would be enjoyable for people who’d never sketched before as well as for more experienced sketchers, so we worked out a programme we hoped would be good for everyone and invited some volunteers to come and try it out.

One of the best ways I know to relax and warm up your eye-hand co-ordination and to have some fun is to do some blind contour portrait drawing. You make a hole in a piece of paper and stick this over the pen you’re using, covering your hand so you can’t see the paper you’re drawing on, and you then draw ‘blind’, simply by looking at your subject and feeling your way. The good thing about this is that not even an experienced sketcher is going to be able to make a slick clever looking drawing, but amazingly it seems that everyone always makes a hilariously half-way recognisable portrait – and it’s a great ice-breaker. 

Blind contour portraits

We used ordinary A4 office paper and smooth-flowing ballpoint pens, resting on clipboards, and after we’d done a few of these sketches and laughed at the results we trooped off into the park to do some outdoor sketching using the same materials.

Sketching standing up – one of the things we wanted to help people feel comfortable with!

The café terrace is a great place to sketch from

There are some wonderful new sketching locations now – the glasshouse terrace has some great vantage points. I was a bit worried that we were throwing beginners in at the deep end here, (figuratively speaking) but we suggested starting with several quick sketches before meeting up again to compare notes and it turns out that blind contour drawing really does the trick – it makes you realise that you can sketch something without being worried about what happens on the page, and you’re more inclined to look a lot more at the subject and less at what your pen or pencil is doing. Amazing! 

All kinds of things to draw – quick sketches on the Glasshouse Terrace

We weren’t short of interesting things to draw. I started by sketching part of the castellated top of the Tower House with the delicate white fleur-de-lis ridge decorations of the glasshouses silhouetted against the old dark stone (I added the colour later when I got home to emphasise the dark-against-light, light-against-dark) but I soon became distracted by watching the rest of the group and I started sketching the sketchers. It was a cold day and luckily everyone had dressed up properly – Louise had even come wearing two pairs of trousers, which says a lot about what sort of sketcher she is – absolutely determined to get out and stay out in all weather. 

My page of quick sketches on the café terrace

She’s a phenomenally fast sketcher, too – maybe this helps her to keep warm as she can move more quickly from place to place. I can’t draw for longer than 10 minutes or so at a time without taking a break, and I can’t get anything like as much down on the page as Louise can. It’s fascinating to watch her drawing at breakneck speed with intense concentration.

A few of Louise’s sketches… 

and one with a splash of added colour!

After a while I paused to move to a different viewpoint and couldn’t resist doing a bit of landscape sketching. This is the view across Airedale from the Glasshouse terrace – 

When I got home I splashed some paint onto it as an experiment – this is just ordinary typing or printing paper, not designed for watercolour – but apart from the fact that the paper crinkles like crazy it is possible to get some colour down in quite an interesting way. 

We deliberately used simple, basic, cheap paper because we wanted everyone to see how you can make perfectly satisfactory drawings on paper like this and not be intimidated. Sketchbooks can make you feel a bit self conscious – and loose paper sheets are better for sharing and looking at drawings at the end of a session. Smooth flowing ballpoint pens are good for this kind of sketching, too – you can make strong dark lines and faint ones equally easily, and there’s no question about whether or not to rub something out so that’s not a decision you have to make.

At the end of the morning we gathered back indoors for tea and cake, to warm up and talk through what we’d done and how it had gone.

In just a morning there’s a limit to what you can hope to do, and of course some people had ‘how do I do such-and-such’ questions. We kept it simple, and I hope there will be other opportunities to expand and grow on what we were doing, which was very basic. 

We learnt a lot from this trial run. Even though the group was small we had a good cross-section of people with very different levels of experience and got some very helpful feedback. Our aim was simply to help people feel comfortable about sketching in the park and to see how drawing helps you to focus, notice things, and put everything else on hold for a while – and everyone agreed that the sketchwalk did all that, so together with having a very enjoyable morning, I’d say that counts as a success. There may be some things we’ll do a bit differently when we do this again, but I think it’s a good start – and we’re looking forward to the next time! 

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! 

Today the ongoing work in the park was merely a backdrop to a very important annual event, and I made sure I was there to meet some of the visitors and to try to sketch a few very quick portraits. 

Teddy bear sunbathing

The sun shone. In fact it was hot, which perhaps explains why a lot of bears simply lay around on picnic blankets, in various bear-like positions. Though some adopted more thoughtful and even strenuous poses…. 

Short haired bear doing yoga

I’ve often wondered if bears are interested in yoga. This one seemed to be holding a pose with a placid and peaceful demeanour and I couldn’t help thinking this would be a good addition to a picnic. Teddy bear yoga – or perhaps teddy bear Tai Chi? I’d find a bit of practice of that sort in the company of teddy bears very calming – they’re even less stretchy than me, and very much better at acheiving peaceful stillness. Something for next year? 

Teddy in a pushchair

This is Jasper (I know that by his necktie) who was one of the few bears I saw to have acquired a really comfortable seat. No doubt he was going to have to ride home in less style when his owner reclaimed the buggy but in the meantime he was reclining contentedly and observing the crowds queueing for balloons. 

Fluffy grey Me to You bear

And by the time I left some bears like their young owners were looking a bit sleepy…. some were getting squashed into carrying bags or tucked under arms or into the luggage carriers of buggys. This is Baby Bear, a fluffy grey long haired Me To You bear, waiting to be picked up and taken home. 

I took my own bear along to see what was happening. He’s been with me for almost as long as I can remember (off and on – over the years he’s had sabbaticals and gone on expeditions and adventures of his own; at one time he was a remedial teaching assistant) so he’s getting to be a venerable age. People were duly impressed by this – he must have been the oldest bear there. 

Bear accompanying me sketching

The best parties are the ones that are not necessarily the most spectacular, but all you remember is having fun and enjoying the day! 

Sketchers preparing for a behind-the-scenes tour of the unfinished glasshouses

Unexpected fun – Sketchers preparing for a privileged behind-the-scenes tour of the unfinished glasshouses

Museum sketching in the Conservatory - Gina Glot's drawing of the carved marble urn

Museum sketching in the Conservatory – Gina Glot’s drawing of the carved marble urn shaped like a shell

I was so busy meeting people at the Garden Party last Sunday that I didn’t get a chance to do any sketching, but luckily there were others who did! At long last I had the chance to meet up with sketchers who until now I’d only known online, through Yorkshire Urban Sketchers and Sketch That Leeds. For them it was a chance to enjoy the action, to see some of the things I’ve been sketching in the park all year, to explore and draw in the museum – and to get a behind-the-scenes look at the still unfinished work when they were taken on a tour of the glasshouses (hence the hard hats). 

Sketchers from Sketch That Leeds, drawing dancers in the museum

Sketchers from Sketch That Leeds, drawing dancers in the museum. (Note the vital piece of equipment peeping out of the bag; I thought for a minute Helen had brought along a little friend but the weather was a bit variable – we all came prepared)

Sketching the action

Sketching the action (I never got the chance to see the drawing so I don’t know if the fellow in the foreground who looks about to dash in and join the dance got into the picture too….)

Meeting Sketchers at lunchtime in the Lodge

Meeting Sketchers at lunchtime in the Lodge

Joe Bean's sketch of the jazz trio playing outside the Conservatory

Music in the park; Joe Bean’s sketch of the jazz trio playing outside the Conservatory

The tour of the glasshouses was an unexpected extra and although no-one got a chance to sketch there, everyone realised what an exciting place it’s going to be from a sketching point of view. The views are going to be magnificent and the buildings themselves are going to be even more wonderful when they’re planted up with ferns and succulents and cacti and the Norfolk Island Pine. And of course, there will be the café! 

Mel Smith Parks Manager showing Sketchers the glasshouses

Mel Smith the Parks Manager showing Sketchers the glasshouses – standing on the terrace that will be in front of the café

In front of the café

The open end to the café glasshouse row

At the end of the café row of glasshouses the structure will be a covered roof, with no walls – so you can sit or stand there sheltered from the weather but still enjoying the fresh air and with uninterrupted views across the lawn to Cliffe Castle and Airedale

And the exhibition of Drawing The Work is now open in the museum, in the Breakfast Room next to the Conservatory – a long glass cabinet displaying my sketchbooks and drawings, accompanied by some of the objects in the sketches, watched over by Queen Victoria’s beady eye…. 

Display in the Breakfast Room

Sketched objects, and the objects themselves

Display cabinet with drawings

It’s humbling to see my work on show alongside the extraordinary objects and works of art in the museum. There are some wonderful things in this room and it felt quite startling to come into the museum and see my drawings and sketchbooks next to the things that I love to sketch! Over on a table in the corner are the four facsimile sketchbooks next to a welcoming sofa where people can recline in comfort and browse the books, under the gilded chandalier in the marvellous surroundings of what was the Butterfield’s everyday dining room. I love this mixing up of the past, the present and the future – and I’m so enjoying being able to share my sketchbooks like this. I look forward to meeting more of the people who like me are fascinated by the way history unfolds in front of us day by day – and to more urban sketching!