Archives for category: Mindfulness

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.

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imageUntil recently I’d never heard of Urban Sketchers (though you’d think that to have missed them I must have been living under a rock, or on some remote island without an internet connection). USk as it’s known for short was launched in 2007 by Seattle-based journalist and illustrator Gabriel Campanario who created an online community of urban sketches on Flickr.com. Sketchers could scan their drawings and share them on the group’s Flickr site, Facebook page or blog – and the idea went viral; so far communities of sketchers have formed 60 regional chapters in 29 countries. “Artists of all ages and skill levels have stories to tell,” says founder Gabi Campanario. “Urban Sketchers is a free group that provides a platform for them to renew their love of drawing and to learn more about storytelling”.*

In order to qualify, a drawing must be done from life, on location, a record of place and time and done without using photos for reference – and at this time of year in this part of the world that can mean braving some pretty uncomfortable weather – but fortunately drawing barefoot isn’t a literal requirement; this kind of drawing is about going back to the basics, the nitty gritty of connecting with what’s in front of you and getting it down on paper. And you don’t always have to become numb with cold or struggle with wind and rain – indoor sketching is fine (the Yorkshire group have just done a lively sketchcrawl at the Hat Works in Stockport) and sketching from a car, or a window (as my drawing above) is another good grim weather option. No wonder it’s so popular. I’ve joined Urban Sketchers Yorkshire and even though as yet I’ve not made it to a sketch meeting I’m delighted to have found this bunch of friendly sketchers in my part of the world.

There’s an accepted ethos about urban sketching and the group has a manifesto, which goes like this:

  1. We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation.
  2. Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel.
  3. Our drawings are a record of time and place.
  4. We are truthful to the scenes we witness.
  5. We use any kind of media and cherish our individual styles.
  6. We support each other and draw together.
  7. We share our drawings online.
  8. We show the world, one drawing at a time.

I’ve picked up some invaluable tips on drawing tools and new materials from discussions on the group’s Facebook page (there’s nothing like hearing other people’s personal recommendations and exchanging experiences) – and I’m really enjoying the opportunity to keep in touch this way.

(*Thanks to Lynne Chapman of ‎Urban Sketchers Yorkshire for her short written introduction to USk)

Whenever I look at something with all my attention – look so that I’m soaking it in and really seeing – everything else stops. It’s why for me going out for a walk is such a good way to unwind, because I can’t go far before I see something that I want to stop and gaze at.

We have a choice about the things we look at and concentrate on. In fact we have a choice about whether we really look at all. At times it would be easy to go through a day without stopping to look (and also to listen, touch, and smell) and sometimes it can even be hard to do it at all. This is what depression is about, when it feels as if you are locked in and don’t have a choice, and then it doesn’t matter what you look at, you can’t make the connection or escape from this imprisoned state of mind.

(A quick note, though, about the picture above – I couldn’t resist using it to illustrate that last sentence, but I didn’t take the photograph while feeling depressed! Far from it, in fact. I love the wonderful richness of the texture of the wall and the wood of the shutter, the pattern and contrast of the bars and the mesh, the subtlety of the colour and the mysteriousness of what might lie inside, behind the open window….)

If you’re depressed you tend to go about not seeing at all, or worse, noticing only things that reinforce feelings of bleakness and despair, so I’ve learnt that it’s important to maintain good habits all the time. I find that going out every day to take photographs but more importantly, to look, is much more than gathering source material and hoping that I’ll stumble upon something exciting. It’s more than taking some much needed exercise. More than anything else it’s about deliberately being aware, and paying attention.

In fact recently, I’ve learnt something astonishing – that simply by paying attention to the right things and making a habit of it, over time we can – and in fact, do – actually change the way our brains are wired.

This is from an e mail newsletter that I subscribe to called Just One Thing, by Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist from California:

“Moment to moment, the flows of thoughts and feelings, sensations and desires, and conscious and unconscious processes sculpt your nervous system like water gradually carving furrows and eventually gullies on a hillside. Your brain is continually changing its structure. The only question is: is it for better or worse?

In particular, because of what’s called ‘experience-dependent neuroplasticity,’ whatever you hold in attention has a special power to change your brain. Attention is like a combination spotlight and vacuum cleaner: it illuminates what it rests upon and then sucks it into your brain – and your self.

Therefore, controlling your attention – becoming more able to place it where you want it and keep it there is the foundation of changing your brain, and thus your life, for the better.”

I’m still not sure exactly why, but this idea got me really excited. Possibly it’s because I like the tangible fact that something I’ve always felt to be true is actually a scientific fact. More probably it’s because I am so preoccupied with landscape and the way water erodes and changes it that I find this such a powerful metaphor, and now I can feel myself creating new channels in the landscape of my mind. If my brain is continually changing its structure, I’m determined to try to make it for the better!

I’m not the only one around here that spends time looking closely at things. After several grey days the sun broke through this morning and all of a sudden it felt like spring. I was glad to see these two figures in the distance, one of them with a camera, peering intently at the crocuses that every year cover this bank like a snowdrift.

I love the way the season, the weather and the time of day can alter everything so dramatically. I can go for the same walk on a different day or at a different time, and suddenly be stopped in my tracks by the sight of something astonishing.

Someone asked me the other day which medium I like using best. It’s a hard question to answer, but I think whatever I’m currently using I’d probably say that’s the one I love most, (though ask me that again when I’m immersed in jewellery making, or when all I want to do is stitch fabric, and it’ll probably be a different story). At the moment it’s watercolour, and drawing and watercolour painting are both equally important for me but for rather different reasons.

Actually watercolour has characteristics that make it easy to get obsessive about. Some of this has to do with the paint itself; it’s so enjoyable to mix and dilute and load onto a brush and to watch what it does when it get on to the paper – whether it’s a wet wash that runs and soaks in, or a dry swish of colour put on with the side of the brush, or two colours put on wet next to each other and allowed to collide and then merge and mix on the paper to create fluid explosions of new colour between them. I could do this for hours, and sometimes I do just this and nothing more – simply mix two colours in varying proportions.

I try to look closely at something every day, with complete attention, for several minutes – and though drawing inevitably means doing this, sometimes it’s more a matter of simply soaking up the experience of the moment and doing something like quietly mixing paint, thinking of absolutely nothing else. I have certain colours that are old friends – like aureolin yellow and cobalt blue which make lovely greyish greens, or cobalt blue and burnt umber, which make beautiful subtle greys – that I return to when I need consolation and some peace and stillness. After a while nothing else matters, and at the end of a day when I’ve painted like this the colours I’ve been mixing stay in my subconscious mind so that I see them when I fall asleep and sometimes they fill my dreams.

Returning to watercolour painting after not having done it for a while can be a pretty horrible experience though, because it is so unpredictable and demanding. Throw yourself into it without having mind and heart prepared and without imposing some sort of discipline on yourself, and the day is doomed. This is the side of watercolour that is not what people expect when they think they’d like to take it up, but it’s the flip side of the coin; get the practice right, and it’s the most fulfilling and rewarding form of art practice that I know, even more than drawing. I like the fact that it requires me to slow down and collect all my attention, to be in harmony with myself and to be focussed in the right way, and that if I’m not, all of that will be immediately and horribly obvious right there in front of me on paper. It’s what makes the expression art practice really mean something.

I take photographs almost every day, and in winter when the colours in the landscape are subtle and subdued, the most exciting thing is often the sky. Even from indoors I can see plenty of sky from the windows and recently the weather has provided an amazing show of special effects, particularly in the mornings and evenings. This is one of the things that I like about winter, that the days are so short it’s quite usual to see both sunrise and sunset, and sometimes the skies are breathtakingly beautiful.

A few days ago I watched the sun rise over the moor and then from the other side of the house watched it set again in the afternoon behind the bare branches of trees. As the sun went down the sky turned from very pale gold to a colours so subtle they haven’t got names, though there was a certain amount of amber, and many different greys; there was a cloud of Paynes Grey that gently elongated itself and drifted sideways. All together I watched for about three minutes and in that time I could see that the changes in colour and light were happening so fast that every second was measurably different. It made me think that this is how things are, in nature and for us too, we just don’t think of it that way – we’re always thinking that the moment we’re looking at something, that’s the way that it is, and it’s not- in fact everything changes continually, and so do we.

This morning it rained steadily for hours under a sky that was a solid unbroken grey, but by lunchtime the rain cleared, and all afternoon we had patches of blue sky with a parade of clouds of all shapes and sizes and colours, some of them great piled up creamy white constructions with just the softest shadowing of pale grey; some big dramatic blue-grey monsters hurrying sideways, some long thin streaks of grey moving equally fast, and some hazy, nebulous stuff drifting and disappearing….

I went for a walk and on my way back found myself looking up through the branches of the beech trees at a cloud right overhead that was completely monochrome, a dark, totally neutral grey that had absolutely no colour of any kind, but at its edges the sky was a brilliant blue occupied at the horizon by a range of pink and white clouds that were so solid they looked like mountains.

The contrast between the colour in the distance and the gloom of colourless grey overhead was so extraordinary I thought something dramatic must be about to happen, and sure enough the wind picked up and hailstones started to bounce on the pavement around me, though not for long; within a minute the sky above me was clear and the sun was shining straight in my eyes as I tried to take pictures of another cloud that appeared behind the trees, grey with brilliantly glowing white edges. The wind kept catching me in gusts so strong that made it hard to hold the camera still and I couldn’t be sure I was shooting straight.

I don’t think I could ever get tired of watching clouds. I really need to be outside if only for a short while every day, whatever the weather, whenever I possibly can – not just to get air in my lungs and get my legs moving, but to get my mind and my heart still and to wake up my soul. Today I was tired when I went out, but despite the cold it was so exhilarating I could have stayed and watched until the light was completely gone.