Archives for category: sketchbook

Sketches of costumed participants at Cliffe Castle on World War 1 Day

Sketching people doing more or less anything is one of my favourite things, and if they’re dressed up in some way, even better. Cliffe Castle’s World War 1 Day last Saturday gave me more subjects than I could draw, and trying to sketch people you know and haven’t seen for a while is difficult too – I kept having to abandon everything so I could hug someone and say hello!

I learnt some interesting facts about uniform. One thing that had always intrigued me is how puttees are put on and fastened, and this was explained (though not demonstrated) by the wearer (who does lots of costumed re-enactments, of different periods). You start winding the puttees from the bottom beginning at the second bootlace hole, and when you get near to the top just below the knee you make a turn or twist in the wrap (‘you know, the way the Vikings did it’ he said by way of explanation. I had to admit if anything I know less about Vikings than I do about WW1 army kit, but I get the general idea). The twist is what stops the whole wrap falling down, before it’s fastened off with tape to finish the thing off. (Probably not like the Vikings.)

Sketchbook page of costumed participants at Cliffe Castle on World War 1 Day, including Frederick Butterfield, mayor

Frederick Butterfield (of the Cliffe Castle Butterfield family) was mayor of Keighley during the First World War and took a leading role in the campaign to save wheat by restricting the amount of bread eaten, and promoting alternatives (hence the recipes and samples of baked goods with different ingredients available to try – Trench Cake was delicious but I missed the chance to sketch it).

Vintage archive photo of Keighley shopfront display promoting campaign to eat less bread and save wheat

This extraordinary photograph was one of several showing the ways in which this message was broadcast. It’s all the more striking because the frontage of this building, Arcade Chambers in Keighley is more or less unchanged and completely recognisable today – but what stands out is the language and sentiments expressed on the posters and banners:

IF YOU WASTE A CRUST YOU WASTE A BULLET
NOT A SCRAP SHOULD ESCAPE
WATCH EVERYTHING AND SAVE BREAD

IF YOU ARE RICH
UNDER EAT YOUR BREAD RATION
THERE ARE MORE SUBSTITUTES
AT YOUR DEMAND

Plain speaking. Mind you, the banner at the top of the photograph is one we could do with today, and maybe we could do with a bit more of this kind of plain speech and use similar methods and locations. After all, there are enough empty store-fronts in our high streets.

STOP ALL WASTE!

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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.

Watercolour sketches of a pot of mint in the sunlight

Pot of mint in the sun on the kitchen windowsill – just watercolour with no line drawing to hang on to.

Sometimes it pays to turn everything on its head. Do something you do a lot of, but in a different way. You don’t really learn, or expand, or grow if you don’t shake things up a bit from time to time.

When I draw, I tend to think in terms of line and contour first. Sometimes if I’m drawing a subject that’s really all about big blocks of shape and colour it’ll be obvious that lines aren’t going to serve me well, and I’ll adapt – but still, in the main, lines are my way of getting a handle on things and so I’ll reach for a pen every time. Which is fine – except you can get stuck in habits that can be limiting.

So when Marc Taro Holmes threw up a new challenge for the month of June I decided I’d join in – no promises about how many days I’ll manage, but the idea of it is just too much fun to ignore.

#30x30DirectWatercolor2018 has its own public Facebook page for participants to post on, so anyone can see what we’re all up to – and people have been signing up from all corners of the globe. It’s all about watercolour with as little line work as possible – just what I need to get me out of my comfort zone and into thinking differently.

Close up of watercolor of pot of mint

I’m only going to do quick sketches and nothing in the least ambitious. But the fun will be sharing my experiences with others and seeing what everyone else is doing – and hopefully growing a bit in the process!

Some people draw to relax. I’m never quite sure whether I do this or not; I don’t think I do. I know I don’t deliberately pick up a pen and a sketchbook and think, ah, this is going to really help me unwind. No. I wish it were that easy. But – then again – perhaps that’s not what people mean, by saying that drawing helps them relax. Drawing takes energy and it can be exhausting, but it does bring me into a state of focused attention – and that more than anything is what I need, day in day out. But when I’m not well and have very little energy this something of a dilemma.

Partly, it’s what to draw. If I found quiet still-life drawings of flowers or fruit really got me going it might be easier, but I don’t generally get excited by flowers or fruit, it’s just not compelling enough as a subject and I can’t bring myself to start, especially if I’m feeling low. What I find totally absorbing is things that move, and that usually means people or animals, (quite why this is I don’t know) – but give me the chance to watch someone at work, or hanging out with other people just holding a conversation, waving their hands about occasionally, doing something not too impossibly fast – and I’m hooked. Once I start drawing I’m lost to everything else. Pain melts into the background. Tiredness doesn’t count. It’s always been this way.

Sketchbook pages with gesture drawings of people talking and drinking

So if I see anything going on outside that I can sketch from the window, I’m engrossed. This warm weather has brought people out of doors to stand around and talk to each other in the street, or chat over the fence. I can try to guess the conversation (!) and just enjoy understanding what’s happening by looking at body language, learning about people by watching how they stand, what they do with their arms and their legs and their heads. And then, if I there’s no live action, there’s always the TV (the sketches on the left hand page were done while watching a film).

It’s amazing really, all the things a sketchbook can be. This is a really restorative thing for me – connecting, observing, recording, this odd process that involves a pen and a page and me looking and looking and moving the pen……

Gesture drawings of people

Now, if I could figure out a way to find flowers as exciting as people, I’d be able to get this stimulating-connecting-sketching thing to work any time I look out into the garden. If only flowers moved.

This is a degu.

Watercolour drawing of a degu

At first glance you might be forgiven for thinking, rat? Mouse? But then you look at the tail…. and you say to yourself, hmm, dormouse? But the size rules that out (it’s bigger than a hamster) and you realise you’re looking at something entirely different from all of these.

Sketchbook page of degu studies in pencil

The first time I sketched them about a fortnight ago in their new home at Cliffe Castle all these thoughts were going through my head and I admit I was confused. In fact as I looked at their little rounded bottoms I kept thinking of guinea pigs, and just once in a while I’d suddenly see something in the eyes or the shape of a nose that made me think rabbit (though that immediately seemed ridiculous) so I kept on looking and drawing, although for a long while all my sketches looked either rat-like or guinea-pig-like – until I felt I knew what I was looking at. Degus. Very special little animals.

For sketching purposes it’s not that easy to see them clearly through the narrow link fence at the front of their enclosure (though after a while I discovered that if you crouch down until you’re on the same level as they are, you can see a lot better – perfect for children, a bit more awkward for me.) So to understand them better, when I got home I looked up some facts, googled photographs and did a couple of drawings from the screen –

Degus, sketched from photographs

– which meant that when I went back again to the animal houses a couple of days ago I had a better idea of what I’d be looking at. (I also learnt that they’re related to guinea-pigs and chinchillas and come from the high Andes, are active during the day but don’t like hotter temperatures, that they’re highly social, and that they live longer and are more intelligent than their near relatives).

Interesting facts – but I can learn a lot by watching.

So I stand with my nose pressed up against the wire, sketchbook and pen ready, and wait.

It’s a warm afternoon, and because of that they’re all inside their custom-built house which has two floors, several entrances and exits and lots of hay for bedding. I can imagine them inside all in a heap, snuggled together. (What’s the collective term for degus, I wonder?) I can just see a couple of noses, two pairs of beady eyes. They’re awake and watching me.

I don’t know if it’s getting cooler or whether they’re just curious, but one by one they start to come out of their house, sniff the air, look around. One or two of them do look at me, one from a lookout position at the top of the plank that leads to their second storey entrance, one perching on the edge of a large empty red bowl. I can see how their tails help them balance. I can see tiny toes, (I know there are five) and ears like crumpled petals.

Watercolour drawing of a degu

I can see their very impressive whiskers. And the tails – with their lovely black tufted ends that I try not to exaggerate, though it’s hard not to…

Watercolour illustration of a degu

Pretty soon one of them ambles slowly over to the green plastic exercise wheel, climbs in and gives it a whirl. I wonder whether I’ll be able to draw those flying feet and have serious doubts, but I give it a go anyway….. and there’s no squabbling when a second degu arrives and also wants a turn. They fit amiably side by side and go racing round together in perfect unison. I can’t draw that.

Drawing of a degu in an exercise wheel

The plastic wheel is also very good for gnawing….

Degu gnawing plastic wheel - pencil drawing

By now I’m beginning to feel I’ve started to get to know them, and the more I watch the more I want to touch and stroke those little rounded backs, feel the sleekness of fur, and if possible very, very gently touch a fragile ear with the tip of my finger. I can’t do that, but drawing almost does it for me; my hand may be holding a pen and touching paper, but my mind is feeling fur, whiskers, skin.

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…….

At last the long awaited day for the re-opening of the restored park at Cliffe Castle finally arrived, last Sunday, and with fanfares and trumpets (well, a brass band)  we celebrated in style. 

The glasshouses have been decorated with birds from the 12 days of Christmas made by children from early-years age groups in local schools. I’d been dying to sketch them because they’re just gorgeous – and they look wonderful nesting among the succulents and ferns and flying overhead. Outside the Oompah band were playing with gusto in sub-zero temperatures; my fingers were almost too stiff to draw.

Along with hundreds of visitors, against a background of snow we heard speeches from dignataries, watched a costumed pageant of Cliffe Castle past present and future, listened to a children’s Christmas choir, and cheered when the Dome House was declared open as a golden ribbon held aloft by two stilt-walking fairies was ceremoniously cut. 

These stilt-walkers never stopped smiling and unbelievably showed no sign of feeling cold, even when waving their wands and standing around holding the ribbon. There was such a crowd I couldn’t get a good view for more than a few seconds at a time so I took photos – but they turned out to be extremely hard to draw. It’s very disconcerting looking up at someone who’s about 10 feet tall, and my brain must have stubbornly refused to accept this and wouldn’t let me get the foreshortening right, so they don’t look anywhere near as lofty as they should. Their costumes were so beautiful I had to do a bit of sketching from my photographs later but still got them out of proportion. And don’t ask what happened to the face of the fairy on the left….. 

The birds in the glasshouses include two gloriously chubby French Hens with outstretched wings that look extremely happy among the cacti – they were attracting admiring looks and smiles from everyone who passed them. They’re just irresistible. The immaculate Victorian costume and the stunning hat were from the pageant, thankfully indoors in the warmth of the Castle. 

The Keighley Christmas Carol was an ingenious way to present the past, the present and the future of Cliffe Castle – the children did a wonderful job of portraying the Butterfields. This is Henry Isaac Butterfield himself – or ‘HIB’. I couldn’t sketch fast enough to catch all the scenes….

So now the park is officially open again (even though there are still things to be finalised). The half-finished café opened for the day with a sign on the door saying ‘Opening Soon’ and was overwhelmed with customers. There was a real sense of catching a moment in history here; the children who played such a big part in the celebrations will be the ones who use the park for generations to come and who’ll look back and remember this day as the start of a new era at Cliffe Castle, and I will never forget it. Sketching the Oompah band on the glasshouse patio under the Tower House with fingers so cold I could hardly hold the pen, I felt suddenly and overwhelmingly happy to be part of this space suddenly alive and filled with people for the first time. I found myself grinning like the Christmas tree fairies.  

The covered patio at the Tower House end of the glasshouses is a wonderful space for performances – and sketching (I was drawing the band). The building in the background with the striped roof is the unfinished structure of the animal houses and the stripes, astonishingly, are where snow had slid off very decoratively in alternating sections, which is an unexplained mystery and something I shall have to investigate……

The pond is finished! The final stages of lining it included putting in water-bar, (or high-pressure gasket to give it its proper name) – along the two channels in the cement that had been left for the purpose. It’s clever stuff – it absorbs the expansion and contraction that happens with changing temperatures and thereby prevents cracking in the cement. Amazingly this narrow red tape can expand up to 200 times its size, which is why they took great care to make sure the surface where it was laid was completely dry, to stop it immediately puffing up to something the size of an anaconda……(!) 

Laying water-bar in the pond liner

All this was explained to me in patient detail by Bill the site foreman who has never minded me asking endless questions. He’s always been ready to stop and kindly educate me about things like the proportions of cement-mix, or the uses of threaded stainless steel bar. I’ve learned a lot from Bill, and not least by just watching him at work and directing the men he works with. 

Bill directing work from the edge of the fountain

After many years with Casey’s, Bill has now reached retirement and I was extremely honoured to be asked to make him a card that all his fellow workers could sign and present to him on his last day, at the end of August. Yesterday was the day – and like all endings and good-byes, a moment of a lot of feelings and emotions. When a team has worked together for a long time, breaking that apart is hard for everyone – especially those who have worked closely side-by-side, and when someone as well liked and well respected as Bill moves on, he leaves a gap that will not be filled. Lots of smiles and laughter, but in the days and weeks to come Bill will be missed. I will miss him too, along with all the rest. 

Detail from Bill's retirement card

Detail from Bill’s retirement card

And now the pond that Bill worked so hard to perfect is full of water, with not a sign of a leak; the fountain in the middle has been installed, and the bases of the two carved marble fountains have been lined and made water-tight, and on Wednesday, for the first time and after such a long time of waiting – and just in time for Bill’s last day – the water was turned on and the fountains came to life. I was so excited I think I actually jumped up and down – and even though the security fence is still up and poking a camera through the wire mesh is not an easy thing to do, I managed to take a wobbly video with my phone. 

(Sincere apologies if this video doesn’t work as it’s the first time I’ve ever posted one; I’m hoping that together the magic of the WordPress editor and my ability to understand it will carry the day……)