Archives for category: reportage

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 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

Another landmark in the work on the top terrace – the framework for the central section of glasshouses has started to go up. This will be the circular, domed structure that will contain a Norfolk Island Pine planted in the most enormous container that’s already in place. (I sketched this at the end of a dark afternoon when the light was fading fast and I could see just well enough to make out what was going on.) 

Many of the plants that were in the old glasshouses were removed before the demolition and stored for safety, so some of these cactii and succulents will find their way back into the new planting schemes. But in the meantime, behind the scenes, a lot of work is going on to plan and devise what to plant and how best to arrange it. 

The Victorians were obsessed with ferns. There’s even a word for it – Pteridomania – they couldn’t get enough of them, and wherever possible they planted them in exotic and dramatic settings imitating a kind of romantic woodland, incorporating old dead roots and stumps of trees. (The oldest and most famous Stumpery is at Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire and photographs of it show something weird and gothic, looking like something straight out of Middle Earth.) 

Rooteries are simpler, more natural, and less contrived. Last week Dan Palmer the Heritage Parks Officer put together a collection of roots and the odd bit of stump collected from uprooted bushes from the park hedges and planted a few ferns and other plants as an example of what might be done. I loved it – I think I even recognised the root from drawing it where it was lying outside during the previous week – and I just had to do a sketch of this sample Rootery. 

The planting schemes for the whole park still have to be finalised and it will exciting to follow; it has taken an enormous amount of research into the history of the original gardens and to source specimens of just the right kind. Only this week there was exciting news about rhododendrons…… but more about this another time!

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 of last year and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

Things are looking a bit drab and gloomy in the park at the moment. We’ve had some cold, sparkling days when the sun has shone for a few hours but a lot of the time the light has been dull, the colours flat, and to make matters worse many of the bushes and small trees in the borders have been bulldozed and uprooted in preparation for new planting. This is what gardening and landscaping has to include, I know, but nevertheless it all has to look a bit grim for a while. 

Having said that, the tangled roots of upended bushes can be very interesting things to draw…… 

But however much pleasure there is in the subtle greys and browns and purples of winter, there’s no denying that diggers and high-vis jackets brighten up the landscape. A few days ago I caught sight of something going on in Dark Lane and hurried over to see what was going on. 

I never get tired of watching diggers at work. This time it was all about trying to find the location of a broken land drain, a mixture of following up diagnostic information (supplied by a camera sent through the pipes) and experimental digging. The field began to look as if a giant mole had been at work. And in fact a digger does look very much like a huge animal that can do the work of five men in a tenth of the time, with an elegance that makes it look effortless. So the men were doing quite a lot of standing around, and peering down holes. 

I peered down too, into the drain they’d uncovered near the wall that’s sealed with an inspection cover that I’d never noticed as it’s usually covered with leaves. There’s an inlet pipe here letting in a constant flow of crystal clear water, and a couple of outlet pipes leading off in different directions down the slope of the hill. This must be just one of the many underground springs that flow beneath the surface down the side of the valley. Years ago there was a well down in the corner of the field near the Beechcliffe gate, and you can still see where it’s covered over. There’s a lot you can learn about both the past and the present if you take the time to look – and take every opportunity to be nosey, and peer down holes. 

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 in June and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

Know what this is? I knew what it was as soon as I saw it because I’ve wanted one for ages – it’s a hotel for hibernating insects. It stood centre-stage in the Pop-up Park, the exhibition/event that Bradford Parks department and the Conservation Group put on in the Airedale shopping centre all last week. I got so excited by the insect hotel that I ignored everything else for a while as I sketched it and enjoyed its lovely wonkiness. This is a very superior model – many are simple box constructions, sometimes quite small – and this one is also a teaching aid to use with children, with doors to open and close and questions to find answers to. But how lovely it would be to have an insect residence in the park!

Bees have been a part of park life at Cliffe Castle for a long time and many, many people have come to watch them as part of a visit to the museum – but probably just as many people don’t know that they’re there. (The hive is moved to East Riddlesden Hall in the winter and comes back to Cliffe Castle in the spring.) There were beekeepers in the Pop-up Park on several days during the week, chatting to visitors – and I managed to catch some in action just outside the museum one memorable afternoon in the  summer, when they were checking the hive which they’d brought out to a quiet corner behind the grotto.

The Pop-up Park was a great opportunity to showcase some of the things that happen there regularly. Importantly, it was also a chance to find out what people most enjoy in the park by asking them to fill out a questionnaire about future events, and to give ideas for the café and what it should provide. (If you didn’t get to the Airedale centre and would like to give your thoughts on these things, the questions are here at the bottom of this post. You can hand your comments to the staff at the museum, or send them through my contact page here.)

Saturday was the last day for the event and a Pop-up Bandstand was a perfect way to round off the week, with Herr Jens’s Bavarian Oompah band. Oh, I do love a brass band! Herr Jens’s band plays on the bandstand at Cliffe Castle in the summer and I always enjoy the concerts there, but this time it was festive Christmas music and there’s something particularly wonderful about a brass band playing carols at Christmas. I stood there sketching and singing (I couldn’t stop myself – luckily the instruments were loud enough to drown out the sound of my voice.)

There’s plenty going on at Cliffe Castle over Christmas, and if you’re interested in the restoration of the park, have a look in the windows of the Conservatory where there’s a display called ‘What the Dickens’ showing some of the plans for the restoration project – but don’t miss going inside to see the Conservation Group’s very funny and clever homage to Charles Dickens’ – ‘A Cliffe Castle Christmas Carol’.

A very happy Christmas to everyone!

**********

Would you like to give your views on events in the park, and its café?
Cliffe Castle Park group would like to know your thoughts on events. You can answer these questions in the comments box on the Contact page here, or write them on paper and hand them in at the museum.

Please tell us if you are: female/male/child/group/family

What good events have you been to already?

What good events have you gone to in other parks?

Do you go with family/friends?

At what season/s would you like to have park events?

Any suggestions for the kind of future events you’d like to go to?

Café:

When would you like/need the park’s café to be open?

What sort of food and drink would you like to be available?

Do you think what’s on offer should change by the season/week/day/occasion? Any comments?

Would you like to use the café as a meet-up place?

Do you think dogs should be allowed in the café?

Have you any suggestions for the café?

Thanks for helping by giving us your thoughts and ideas!


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 in June and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

I’m sure this isn’t in fact the biggest plant pot in the world, but it is truly enormous. It’s the container that will be home to a Norfolk Island Pine, that will stand inside the centre of the new glasshouses where it will be accomodated under a glass dome. It’s exciting to be able to see elements of the buildings on the top terrace taking shape – until now they’ve just been drawings on paper and I’ve only been able to imagine them in my mind’s eye, but now it’s beginning to be possible to see the scale, and how everything will fit together.

I’m still not quite sure what the pine tree will look like exactly; suppliers are being sought, and when I researched Norfolk Island Pine on the internet I found pictures that vary so much that I thought I was looking at different species of tree. But it sounds impressive; it’s described as “a statuesque indoor tree with soft green needles and a slow growing habit. Originally discovered on Norfolk Island in the Pacific between Australia and New Zealand. Prefers bright, indirect light and will tolerate some direct light.” Think of a Christmas tree – Norfolk Island Pines are sometimes used as live Christmas trees (a much nicer idea than cutting down a living tree).

It’s exciting to think that there will once again be glasshouses at Cliffe Castle that can show plant specimens as large and impressive as this.

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.

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.

While the path is being laid in Dark Lane at the top of the lower field and the wall is being slowly and carefully repaired, work continues on the top terrace at the site where the new glasshouses and café will be – and although it’s not possible to get a really close look at the work, it’s always interesting to watch through the viewing windows in the wooden hoarding. There’s now a big heap of rusty old iron pipes and other bits and pieces lying in a twisted pile in the foreground – mostly Victorian heating pipes removed from what was probably a kind of service tunnel. Some of these look very interesting even in the battered state they’re in now – and some will definitely be conserved and kept for the museum, so I look forward to being able to examine them more closely some day.

The day I sketched these, some large red box like structures had recently arrived on site and I sketched one of these in the background as well, wondering what it was. Later I had the chance to ask and now I know that these are trench boxes. They’re lowered into a trench to stabilise the sides and make it safe to work at the bottom of the hole without any danger of the sides collapsing; they’re expandable, to fit different sizes of trench, and they’re also used as temporary shuttering to support cement poured in at the sides. Such a clever solution to a common problem.

The Victorians were as excited about the new technologies of their day as we are about ours – I think possibly even more so – and Cliffe Castle has plenty of examples of these materials and construction methods.A while ago I managed to get hold of a small piece of the original aggregate that lined the pond, so I could get a close look and examine it properly. I don’t know exactly what it’s made from and hope some day to find out. (There are unexpected black shiny bits in it that look like coal.) I dived into the internet to research Portland cement, and found out it was invented and patented in 1824, and sold in barrels – a hugely easier and much safer material to use compared with lime mortar, though expensive. But I can imagine that this would have been good stuff to use for lining the pond.

Whenever I sketch things like this I find myself asking questions and looking for answers (not always easy to find) – and the more I sketch the more interesting it becomes!

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.

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.

The starting point of the path that follows the route of Dark Lane, the ancient track that led out of Keighley in the direction of Utley

There are several ways you can enter Cliffe Castle Park, but most people don’t realise that if you come in through the Holly Lodge gateway that leads in from Spring Gardens Lane, you’re following part of an ancient road that used to continue straight on across the top of the lower field. This is Dark Lane, that led out of Keighley in the direction of Utley, and which is clearly marked on old maps. (It’s remembered as being an escape route during the Civil War – I imagine by defeated Royalists fleeing the battlefield and avoiding the main highway – but I don’t know if there are real records of this.)

The route is being restored as a path, and soon it’ll be possible to walk along it all the way across the top of the field until it joins the tarmac path leading down to Beechcliffe.

Dark Lane path behind the bandstand, under construction

The wall that runs along the edge of the field is what’s called a Ha-ha wall – a retainer for the bank behind it that was raised by Henry Isaac Butterfield to conceal Dark Lane which at that time was still a thoroughfare. Ha-ha walls (and sometimes ditches) were common features in Victorian landscaping where the idea was to have an uninterrupted view across your land without the sudden appearance of people walking about in it, or at the edge of it – and to stop these people being able to see you or your house. (The word Ha-ha is supposed to be what someone strolling about the estate would have said when they came across it unexpectedly, though whether it’s ‘ha ha! How amusing, what a good idea’, or ‘ha! ha! What’s this, who put that there, I nearly fell over the edge of the damn thing’ I can’t be sure).

Dark Lane wall at the start of repair work – and a wasps’ nest discovered

On the day the repairs to the wall started I went up to do a quick sketch and found work in one section had paused for a while because a wasps’ nest had been disturbed –  hidden deep in the wall where stones had fallen away. I stood back at what I thought was a safe distance and sketched with one eye on the wasps, and recorded the state of the wall, (above) and returned a week or so later to see how things were progressing (below)…

Repair work in progress

I was interested to see how the path itself is being made. I’d already spotted corrugated bands of rigid black plastic holding the hardcore in place peeping out at the end of a newly laid section, but a few days later I arrived just at the right time to see this black lattice being stretched out and arranged between the timber edges. It’s clever stuff – ribbons of plastic that are bonded together vertically at staggered intervals, so when you pull the ribbons away from each other the whole thing spreads out into a long flexible mesh which will stand up and make a sort of retaining grid of holes about 15 or so centimetres deep (I didn’t measure). I have no idea what it’s called and when I asked, the men laying it couldn’t remember either and told me they call it ‘egg-boxes’ – so for now, egg-boxes it is.

Constructing the path

Once the hardcore has been poured and shovelled in, it has to be tamped down firmly so I got another chance to watch the mechanical compactor in action – though one of these days I really must have a better look at this machine while it’s resting and sketch it properly. While it’s trundling up and down I find myself concentrating on the operator and the machine itself is still a bit of a mystery to me. Trouble is, there’s just too many interesting things to draw!

Compacting hardcore on the path in Dark Lane

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.