Archives for category: Everyday Life

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

At the edge of the pond – layers of topsoil and ballast which is being laid.

We’ve had hot days and wet days recently, and the work on the pond continues. Digging out has given way to establishing what will be the final shape and preparing the groundwork.

Mud. Rain all day; wet weather all-in-one suits for surveying and measuring at the edge of the pond.

The full size and shape of the original pond was very interesting to see once it had been completely excavated and cleared. The two ends taper to a curved point exactly as the plan from the 1870s shows and at the northern end it was just possible to see a flight of steps leading down into the pool. Placed here in the narrowing tip of the eye, the steps would have been a safe way to climb into or out of the pool with the sides and edges at the top making good hand-holds.

Steps down into the pool, drawn more clearly than a photograph would show. They were half covered in soil when I saw them and it was hard to make out just how many there are.

Rainy days have alternated with hot dry ones and on a sunny afternoon I watched the huge heaps of hardcore being redistributed around the site and banked up at the edges. Once a digger has shovelled great scoopfuls of ballast into position it all has to be shaped and tamped down – which was being done with a wonderful little machine called a remote control trench roller.

This is a delightful thing to watch. It’s articulated in the middle so it can bend and turn right or left and easily go up and down slopes – quite steep ones – and it’s operated by a small hand-held remote control at the end of a long cable. (It must be fun to operate. It gave the impression of a thing that had a mind of its own and knew what to do, kept in order by being on the end of a long lead like a dog.) 

It gets the job done very efficiently, but I’m certain it requires a good deal of skill and looks easier than it is. When a job looks effortless you can be sure it’s something that comes with practice and experience.

More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information at: https://m.facebook.com/Cliffe-Castle-Heritage-Lottery-Bid-304048249751094, at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.

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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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Cliffe Castle, Cricket and KiteI celebrated World Wide Sketchcrawl day sketching in the grounds of Cliffe Castle in Keighley and although I went there intending to draw the house (which is not really a castle at all but worthy of drawing nonetheless) to practice sketching architecture, as usual I got sidetracked as soon as I saw three generations of one family on one of the lawns with cricket stumps and a bat, and later on playing with a kite. Drawing people for me is irresistible and however difficult it is I just have to try. I’ve had such a good time following the advice and tips that Marc Taro Holmes has been giving out on his blog – wonderful resources that he gives away free from his workshops on drawing people in motion.

Cliffe Castle, Saturday afternoonI’d been following reports from the USK symposium in Singapore – wow! What a wonderful thing it’s been – just watching videos and reading posts has been enough to fill me with even more enthusiasm for urban sketching. And now we hear that next year the symposium will be in Manchester!

I’ve only recently realised that sketching soft toys can be almost as interesting and challenging as drawing people – or at least it is when the individual in question is a loved and cherished character. It’s just as important to get a good likeness, and the shapes and textures are just as unpredictable and unknown. I occasionally draw a stuffed rat that I’m especially fond of (he came from IKEA).

Soft Rat

On the 11th August I’m going to try to be at the Teddy Bear’s Picnic at Cliffe Castle; there should be plenty of subjects. Little stuffed creatures are somewhat easier to draw because they don’t move about much, but accompanied at the picnic by their owners this may be less so. And I may find myself distracted once again by wanting to draw people. Who knows?

 

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.

One of the things that impresses me most about Urban Sketchers is the way so many will draw just about anything they see in front of them. I’ve seen lovely sketches of feet, of corners of bedrooms and living rooms, even drawings of full garbage bags. It’s taken a shift of attitude for me to see the attraction in this – I used only to want to draw when I found something excited me, but increasingly I’m discovering the addictive pleasure of just drawing what’s there, wherever I am.

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The whole of one afternoon last week I found myself sitting in a hospital outpatient waiting room, waiting for far longer than I’d expected and with nothing more interesting to look at than a not too healthy plant in a large pot, in front of the usual paraphernalia of office and reception desk clutter. Computer screen, keyboard, files, papers, electrical wiring, and notices on bits of paper stuck randomly here and there informing us and warning us of things. (I didn’t read them.) But after a while I thought that here was an opportunity to draw something that didn’t interest me much, purely as an experiment, so I spent the next half hour doing just that and found after 5 minutes that it did interest me after all.

However as the seats in front of me in the waiting area filled up, things appeared that appealed to me much more and I spent the remaining part of the afternoon sketching the backs of people’s heads.

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These are just some. There were more husbands (or sons) waiting for wives (or mothers) than there were wives or daughters, so I had a whole series of back views of men to look at, keeping still for several minutes at a time. (It’s interesting that people move far more than they probably think they do when sitting in waiting rooms.) Do men’s ears grow bigger as they get older? I’ve often wondered because from observation I’d say they do, but it seems rather odd that they should. One of the younger men was a translator who had come to keep an appointment with a patient who needed an interpreter, only the patient never turned up. There was an attempt by the receptionist to contact him by phone – it’s impossible not to overhear things like this even if you try not to listen – but with no success. I wondered if he had mistaken the day, or the location, or simply forgotten, and I’ll never know. I was hoping I’d hear the translator speak on the phone as he offered to help, and I wanted to hear what language he’d speak as I couldn’t work out from his appearance or his accent what it might be, but I never got the chance. He got his papers signed and validated so he could claim his expenses, and left.

I never mind waiting as I don’t think of it as time lost, even when I’m just sitting still. Getting into the habit of sketching anything, anywhere, makes me look forward to the next time I have a good long time to wait.

Walking The Dog

Continuing to draw in ways I wouldn’t normally choose I picked up a very soft, thick graphite pencil lead and tried to think in terms of areas of tone and not line.

Line is actually an abstraction – we don’t see outlines around objects, and so defining the contours of something or showing tonal values by hatching with lines is a graphic convention that we have learnt to accept and understand. We don’t see like that. I am extremely short-sighted and without my glasses the world is composed of blurry masses. When I got my first pair of spectacles at the age of six, I remember being astonished to see that trees were more than fuzzy masses and that it was possible to see individual leaves and twigs even at a distance. I sometimes wonder if this is why I have always been inclined to draw fine detail and not to use bold, broad strokes, and why the first tool I’ll always reach for is always a pencil or a pen, not charcoal or a brush. Ever since that first pair of glasses I’ve been celebrating the fact that I can see more than the broad picture. But the devil is in the detail, and a drawing is not just the sum of its parts. The whole, in the end, is far more important than each tiny composite portion.

 

When I’m out and about, occasionally I catch sight of something that’s been made, or hung, or arranged or displayed by someone who had no conscious intention of making a work of art at the time – and yet the result is something strikingly different, something that is expressing an idea, or maybe just presenting itself to the world in a way that says, ‘Look, here I am, take notice of me’.

I don’t want to get into the whole complex business of what constitutes a work of art, or at least, not here and now – but there are times when I feel liberated by stumbling across something in the street that could have been self consciously show-cased in a gallery as an art installation, and I want to celebrate its glory and freshness and integrity. ‘Yes!’ I want to shout, ‘you’re wonderful!’ So I take pictures.

These drain covers are a case in point. They’ve all been carefully constructed so that when in place the design of the stone paving continues across them in an uninterrupted flow; all you are supposed to see when they’re in their right places are the edges of the metal frames. But as each one has been taken out from time to time and put back, they’ve been jumbled up and now they’re a far more interesting visual picture – and a framed one at that. I stood a long time looking at them and enjoying their different shapes and textures, their tonal values and their colour, and the composition as a whole. If this had been hanging on the wall of a gallery I would have stood just as long and looked as thoroughly, but I confess that finding it in the street I enjoyed it more.

Actually I often like to look at drain covers – and street furniture generally. They are things so often ignored and overlooked. I have no idea why this inspection cover has been painted red. Right in the middle of a cobbled street, and not six feet from a neighbouring one that’s a natural unpainted brownish grey, it’s saying something important, but I have no idea what it is. Street furniture has a language of its own.

I’m not sure if this last example really counts as unintentional art, but I found it so arresting when I saw it the other day that I can’t resist including it. What are we to infer from this washing line, with just one single sock? A whole multitude of possibilities ran through my mind – and more entertaining notions than the sort I usually have when looking at something calling itself Art. Long live the art of the everyday, the art of everyone, the art that’s unintentional. All we have to do is get out there and see it.