Archives for category: Urban Sketching

The next stage of my journey around the perimeter of Cliffe Castle Park is an exercise in not getting lost.

Sketch of where the path divides

A fork in the path calls for a decision. As you enter Moorside Wood from the Beechcliffe end you soon come to a place where the path divides.

It’s obvious that if you go to the left, you’ll follow the edge of the field and climb uphill keeping the open ground of the park visible through the trees. This path is still visibly paved with old tarmac which in places is as smooth as the trunk of a beech tree (there are plenty here for comparison which is why I thought of it) and it can be slippery – whereas the path that goes off to the right is unpaved but well trodden, and anyone coming into the wood to explore would be likely to choose this direction. This path leads off in a promising way and seems to be well used…..

Sketch of tree on the lower path that leads nowhere

…… and it carries on looking as if it’s going somewhere for several hundred yards, until it loses confidence and fades away, leaving you wondering what on earth has happened. (A large yellow arrow painted on the trunk of a beech tree adds to the confusion as it points, for no reason, away from the path.) When I explored it again a couple of months ago determined to find a reason for this the same thing occurred and I ended up in the undergrowth in the no-man’s land between the wood and the school with nothing much to show for my determination, so I retraced my steps a bit and discovered an ancient drystone wall along this boundary, most of it now almost completely fallen down. It’s covered in moss, but clearly visible, and a compelling thing to draw so I took cover from the light rain that had started to fall and lurked there sketching for half an hour.

Green moss growing on a tumble down section of drystone wall

The discovery of this wall did nothing to explain the disappearance of the path, but walking back this far made me realise how to remember the way through the woods from here. The ground slopes steeply uphill through a stand of magnificent beech trees and if you walk straight up this bank and bear to the right, before long you find yourself joining the path that leads to High Utley.

The path towards High Utley

Although it’s less obvious now, this is not one wood, but in fact two. Moorside Wood is the older part and has tall, old, mature trees – beech, oak, ash, holly – and there’s even a walnut tree at the very edge of the field. The beech trees are some of the tallest I’ve ever seen, and standing beneath them is always for me the best part of every walk here. I never get tired of the way the sight of them takes me by surprise – this is a very small wood, but there’s something about these trees that could make you think you were in a forest.

Beech trees in Moorside Wood - photo, in spring

But the part of the wood that extends towards High Utley is a long narrow strip, planted much more recently and consequently it has a different character. It has a different name, too; Steepfield Wood. I’ve only recently discovered this, from an old Cliffe Castle Discovery Trail published (I think) in the 1970’s – and this younger bit of woodland is mostly sycamore, lime and oak, and a lot of ornamental cherry trees that were planted along the path here many of which are now falling down (not being a very long-lived species). I’m going to explore this part of the park in the next post, as there’s a lot more to discover.

Briefly though, and backtracking a bit to where I started at the fork in the path – to the winding route that climbs up at the edge of the field just inside the wood. It’s a lovely walk, with beautiful views, and recently it’s been cleared so that the old tarmac is clearly visible and all the more interesting for being in a dilapidated state. You can see the layers of hardcore and tar, the thickness of it and how it was laid. Add to that a sprinkling of glowing autumn leaves and there’s such a richness of colour and texture that I could spend a whole day here just in this tiny bit of wood, drawing and taking photos, and still not get enough of it.

Old tarmac on the path at the edge of the woods

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This bit of the perimeter of Cliffe Castle Park is the part I pass through most often, as it’s the entrance closest to my home, the corner nearest to Utley and the UAK school. The path from the gateway goes straight ahead, with the Beechcliffe Enclosure to the left and the school boundary on the

right until it reaches a junction between two beech trees. Turn sharp left and follow the tarmac path, and you’re heading up the hill towards the middle of the park. Go straight on, and you’re entering Moorside Wood.

Extremely fast sketch of the start of the path into Moorside Wood. (That rectangular thing is the iron cover that seals a spring that comes to the surface here)

I quite often linger at this point because it’s a good place to pause. There are often rabbits at the fringe of the hedgerow over near the school, sometimes happy to go on nibbling grass or sit quietly watching me as I watch them. Sometimes all I see is an upturned tail and two hind legs as a rabbit-bottom disappears into the undergrowth.

There’s a horse chestnut tree here too which had plenty of conkers this year, and some glorious toadstools that sprouted up under the beech, and stayed just long enough for me to find them and sketch them.

But the most remarkable tree is the copper-beech that stands at the corner where the path turns, and until this summer one huge branch spread right out across the path creating a magical archway of foliage that was extraordinarily beautiful. It was long and thick and more or less horizontal, and it was a constant wonder to me that the tree was able to bear its weight. Perhaps it was the drought of this long hot summer that finally brought it down, but it collapsed, in August, and although the tree is still magnificent I’m glad I have photographs to remind me of the way it was.

Before….

…… and after

The path into the wood is not paved with tarmac – or not clean, modern tarmac, anyway – so it can be muddy and it’s often dark. I think sometimes when the rhododendrons are at their bushiest, some people may miss the path altogether, which to me makes it all the more interesting. But walk just a few steps and there’s a clearing on the left, where a large tree fell a couple of years ago. The trunk is lying there, cut off from the stump which is still partially in the ground with its tangled roots exposed and this summer new shoots appeared sprouting from the stump, with huge and interesting leaves. My best guess is that it’s an American Oak, but I still have to make a proper identification.

Recently the leaves turned astonishing colours…….

The path continues on into the woods, and so will my exploration – next time, (amongst other things) how not to get lost by taking a path that looks like it leads somewhere and doesn’t, what Victorian tarmac looks like, and how a very small wood can feel like a forest……..

Watercolor sketch of Trees in the Beechcliffe Enclosure

Trees on the lower terrace in the Beechcliffe Enclosure, seen from the lower part of the field.*

In my exploration of the perimeter of Cliffe Castle Park I’ve arrived at the Beechcliffe Enclosure. In part 3 I wandered about the Garden of Life on the terrace where Beechcliffe House once stood, and now I’ve been meandering through the lower part of this area, working my way north towards Utley and the corner of the park near the UAK school (the University Academy Keighley).

I thought I knew this area quite well as it’s the part of the park that’s closest to my home, but it’s turning out to be packed full of things I didn’t know about, and I discover more and more every time I go there . (In fact I’m coming to realise that this would be true of any small part of a given location that I chose to concentrate on, and that fact in itself was worth discovering).

So to start where I was at the end of the last post – if you walk through the circle of standing stones in the Garden of Life there’s a faint path continuing through the trees where the ground slopes down to a lower terrace which is now a small wood. This area was obviously planned and planted with trees of different varieties, perhaps shortly after the buildings that stood here were taken down – this must have been where the coach house and stables for Beechcliffe House once stood. At the edge amongst other trees is a very large ash, and going further in there’s a double line of ornamental cherries mixed with sycamore, maple, oak, and here and there some elder and young self-seeded horse chestnut saplings. Then as you come closer to the steep bank that forms the edge of the terrace there’s a beautiful tall blue conifer (I want to say blue spruce, but I haven’t definitively identified it) and at the bottom of the bank, standing clear of all the other trees, out in the field, a large silver birch. I stood at the bottom of the field looking up towards these trees to do the sketch at the top of this post* (and that odd looking square object in the distance is a tree stump, by the way).

Leaves from trees in the Beechcliffe Enclosure

At the back of this wood and running the whole length of the Enclosure (explaining the name) is an old drystone wall, the continuation of the wall retaining the raised bank that runs the full length of Dark Lane, which starts over by the bandstand near the Holly Lodge entrance. All along the top of this bank is a line of beautiful tall mature trees – mostly beech and lime – some of which have affected the structure of the wall over time. In some places the roots have pushed out stones and in one place the wall has toppled completely so that it’s possible to scramble up and stand on top of the bank looking down, which I did – and from this vantage point you can learn a lot about how a drystone wall is made, which is fascinating.

Drystone wall half collapsed, seen from above

Drystone walls are impressive structures and when skillfully built they’re immensely strong and durable. I didn’t appreciate until I started reading up about them quite how amazingly strong they can be (this – http://www.merchantandmakers.com/history-of-dry-stone-walls – is a really good read if you’re interested) – but the roots of trees can be their undoing. What’s exciting about this bit of tumbled down wall is that you can clearly see one of the through-stones, the large pieces that are inserted periodically to pin the structure together – as well as the infill of small bits and pieces, and the wedge shape of the coping stones at the top. It’s like a text-book illustration of a cross section of drystone wall, except for the fact that it’s overgrown with moss and a bit obscured by mud and fallen leaves.

If I wrote about everything I’ve discovered in this section of the park it would turn into a whole project in itself, so for a shorter version – if you cut across the field from here (which is a lovely stretch of grass often frequented by rabbits) and head towards the perimeter wall, there’s more to explore along the edge of the park.

Closed gate in the perimeter wall in the Beechcliffe Enclosure

About half way along the wall next to the Skipton Road is a green wooden gate, now nailed permanently shut. I wonder if this would have been a secondary or trade entrance to the property, leading to the stables and the coach house and cottage – it doesn’t seem quite grand enough for the main access to Beechcliffe House and the entrance further up near the boundary with the Sports Field seems more fitting as a proper gateway. There are two rustic benches here, one on each side of the gate, rather beautifully made from rough hewn timber. They blend in with their surroundings in an unassuming and natural way that I really like; I don’t know when they were put here but it was before I arrived in Keighley 12 years ago, and they look like they’ll be here for many years to come.

Path along the perimeter wall in the Beechcliffe Enclosure, near UAK

Turn left and walk along the path beside the wall and you’re once again passing through a small wooded area. The path here is well used by students from the school, but most of them seem to pass through it quite quickly without lingering. As I stood doing the drawing above I was facing away from the school looking back in the direction of Keighley at about 3.30 in the afternoon, and while I was sketching a stream of noise and clamour made its way up behind me as dozens of school pupils swarmed out of school and into the park. Most of them passed without stopping and only made a few loud and unanswerable comments (unanswerable because often I couldn’t catch what they said) but after a while I became aware that someone was quietly looking over my shoulder. When I glanced up a shy boy with red hair said solemnly ‘it’s a good drawing’. And that was answerable only with a smile.

sketchbook page with notes

Is it good to have a plan?

I’m continually evaluating the things I do when I go out to walk and sketch, and my sketchbook pages often end up with notes to myself that are supposed to make things clearer (which does sometimes help). I find it helps me to have a plan; but ironically at the same time it also helps if I know I’m probably going to drop all these ideas once I’m out in the park and just respond to what’s there.

The big dilemma when going out for a walk with a sketchbook is how much walking to do, and how much sketching. If I go out as I generally do for about an hour, there’s only time for a certain amount of drawing if I’m also going to have a satisfying walk. Take the pages above for example – the line drawing on the left took about 3 or 4 minutes and is really not much more than a diagram but records and identifies a place. The drawing on the right was a bit of a closer investigation of what I’d just discovered and took about 5 to 10 minutes doing just the line work with a pen – I added colour when I got home. The sketch below, of a large beech tree in Moorhouse Wood was done entirely on the spot and took about 20 minutes. That may not sound a lot, but it’s a fairly large chunk out of an hour’s walk. (Sketching with a waterbrush and a tiny palette with just 2 pigments, in this case Paynes grey and Burnt Umber, for cool and warm tones is something I’ve been doing a lot recently).

Monochrome sketch of beech tree in Moorhouse Wood

To try to lessen the dilemma about how much to draw and how much to walk I was suggesting to myself (in the notes under the drawing at the top) that I should go out with the intention to either
a) walk more, stopping now and again to do very quick drawings;
b) walk less, and do fewer, more considered drawings that take more time;
c) a mixture of both, or
d) a flexible combination of all this with the addition of taking photographs whenever I feel like it.

The weather has a big part to play, and so does how well I’m feeling, but I never really know for sure what’s going to happen. Something may catch my eye and before long I’m immersed in drawing, and then before I know it I find I’ve been standing sketching in one place for anything up to 30 minutes. That’s my limit though – I start to get tired and stiff. A sketch like the one below in the Garden of Life took me about that long in the open air and about the same amount of time to finish at home.

Ring of stones in the Garden of Life, Watercolour sketch

It amuses me that I both like to plan ahead but at the same time to know I’m not going to stick to it. Some days I come back with several pages of sketches, sometimes just one drawing, sometimes a string of photos in my phone and sometimes nothing at all – whatever happens is just fine and it’s important to remember that. It’s what being outdoors is all about – looking, feeling, spotting what’s new, seeing something unremarkable but extraordinary, taking time without thinking. Getting lungfuls of air and feeling the earth under my feet.

Squeeze stile, Beechcliffe Enclosure, Cliffe Castle Park

If you make your way through the avenue of cherry trees to the bottom corner of the Sports Field (part 2 of my slow walk with a sketchbook around the perimeter of Cliffe Castle Park) you come to a low wall which would stop you in your tracks if it weren’t for a carefully constructed gap. I don’t know the names for things like this, (being not originally from Yorkshire) and I have to look them up, but I think this is a squeeze stile – wide enough for people (and dogs) to pass through but too narrow for livestock (though true squeeze stiles are a lot narrower at the bottom and wider at the top, and the wall is higher) – presumably this gap is there just to allow the path to continue on down the bank to the Beechcliffe Entrance below.

You scramble down the bank and arrive on the paved surface of the main path that enters the park here through a gateway between tall stone pillars. If you carry on by climbing up the opposite bank, the perimeter path continues across the grass and alongside the wall, but if you look up the slope to the left there’s a landmark that’s hard to miss. In fact it’s clearly visible as you drive along the Skipton Road and for years I used to wonder what it was.

Watercolour sketch of the site of Beechcliffe House

The terraced rise which was the site of Beechcliffe House, bought by Henry Isaac Butterfield in 1875 to add to the Cliffe Castle estate. The house was eventually demolished in 1962 because of extensive dry rot and replaced in 1968 by a purpose built centre for elderly people which in turn burnt down in 1996.

It’s immediately obvious that this must have been the the site of something – the telegraph pole alone would tell you that – but it’s not clear what, and once you get up the hill and stand on the flat terrace at the top things get even more intriguing because there are raised planted beds (abandoned), a ring of standing stones, and at the entrance to the site beneath a stand of bamboo is a marker stone engraved with the words Keighley Garden of Life. The ring of stones is a lovely place – slightly mysterious as you come across it unexpectedly and there’s no indication of how long it’s been there, or why.

Watercolour drawing of the Keighley Garden of Life

Standing stones on the terrace in the Beechcliffe Enclosure. The site was briefly taken over and re-landscaped by a community project, the Garden of Life, in (I think) 2014, when the stone circle was built and other features were added (which are mostly now gone).

These stones in fact are a good example of how a place can be different things for different people. I often used to wonder if this spot was much visited but during just one hour of drawing I saw crows perching on them, small children clambering over them, dog walkers passing between them and families using them for photo-opportunities. There must be all kinds of other visitors both human and animal coming here at different times of the day and night.

Photo-opportunities in the Garden of Life

Photo-opportunities and gatherings in the Garden of Life

This part of the park which is known as the Beechcliffe Enclosure is layered with history, most of which isn’t obvious until you prowl around. Then you stumble upon things like a cast iron drain cover where you wouldn’t expect one, traces of the foundations of a buried wall, a hole that looks like a collapsing well cover (or another kind of drain) a pair of cast iron gate posts standing rather forlorn and crooked and without a gate – and a lot more. Like this…

Mosaic tile in the Garden of Life

Mosaic tile in the Garden of Life

I can’t help getting excited and then increasingly curious about these sort of things. Mysterious objects and buried history with an oblique meaning just demand investigation and sketching the things just intensifies my curiosity.

I know that Beechcliffe House itself was a very substantial building with more than 28 rooms, and the property included a coach house, stables, and a cottage – though where all these buildings were exactly, and how the boundaries and access roads and paths and entrances were arranged is more than I can work out – it requires the serious study of old maps and archive photos and the historical record and that’s a compelling red-herring that for now I have to resist.

The whole of the Beechcliffe Enclosure is perhaps about half the size of the Sports Field, but it’s so packed with interest that it’s too much to cover in one go. Some of this will have to wait until the next installment when I’ll be making my way north through the lower half towards the entrance nearest to Utley…

Aerial photo of Beechcliffe House, courtesy of Bradford Libraries

Aerial photo of Beechcliffe House, courtesy of Bradford Libraries

I’m doing a prolonged, slow walk around the perimeter of Cliffe Castle Park, sketching as I go. (There’s a map at the end of this post). Part 1 started (for no particular reason) in the Sensory Garden close to the Holly Lodge entrance, and I’m moving on in a northerly direction, anti-clockwise, across the Sports Field parallel to the Skipton Road….

Watercolour sketch of the view across Airedale from the top of the sports field

So…. if you leave the Sensory Garden through the gap in the hedge you find yourself at the top of the large, gently sloping field that stretches all along the lower edge of the park between the Skipton Road on one side and the path known as Dark Lane at the other. The views from here are some of the best you can find anywhere in the park – standing here looking across Airedale its hard to feel you’re in town and not way out in the country.

Sketch of oak sapling on the site of the venerable beech....

About two-thirds of the way down the field at this point you can still see the site of the giant tree that until last summer dominated the whole of this landscape. The Great Beech was truly remarkable and I wrote about it in a tribute post when I marked its sad passing – I wish I had sketched it before it eventually had to be felled, but I always found myself unable to draw it or even photograph it in a way that could express its enormous scale. I wish I’d tried to sketch it; it was extraordinary, and looking again at the photos I did take made me remember what it felt like to stand underneath its colossal branches. Generations of people in Keighley knew and loved this tree.

But the sapling oak that’s been planted here seems to be doing well despite the hot dry summer.

The field isn’t laid out for sports in any formal way – no pitch for cricket or football – it’s simply a good place to play games of all kinds, and big enough for a lot of games at the same time.

Quick sketch of girls playing rounders on the Sports Field, Cliffe Castle Park

A couple of weeks ago I watched a group of girls who’d come prepared to play a game of what looked to me like rounders, but while I sketched them a lot of discussion and organisation was going on, and after a while that game seemed to be put on hold and a tennis ball was batted about a bit. Hey, what does it matter what game you play? It was a lovely afternoon, not too hot, a pleasant breeze blowing, everyone enjoying themselves.

Sketch of two girls playing tennis in a rather informal way

I’ve seen all sorts of activities on this field; frisbees are popular, kites are sometimes flown, teams are organised, balls are kicked or batted or thrown (often for dogs).

Castellated top of the perimeter wall, Sports Field, Cliffe Castle Park

The castellated wall that runs round the edge of the park marks the boundary at the Skipton Road. Walls are a prominent feature of the landscape in the park, and they’re a subject in themselves – some are ancient, and some have been re-modelled and repositioned over time. From a sketching point of view a wall is a great thing to have in a landscape because it adds perspective and scale, and a nice sharp line to contrast softer shapes of trees and grass and people as well as often being a dark, solid form in the background.

Avenue of cherry trees at the bottom of the Sports Field, along the Skipton Road

Just inside the perimeter wall where the Skipton Road curves to the left at the roundabout there’s an avenue of ornamental cherry trees, and the unpaved path that runs along the edge of the field continues under the canopy of these trees, which in spring are a mass of pink blossom. In autumn the leaves turn delicate shades of apricot and lemon yellow and coppery red, and I picked up one or two windfall leaves that had already turned colour. I’m guessing that this line of trees may have been planted at the same time as the boundary was moved when the road layout changed – the older castellated wall ends just where the avenue of cherry trees starts, and the newer wall is lower and topped with flat flagstones. This means the trees are clearly seen from the road which was probably intentional, as they’re an eye-catching sight when they’re covered in blossom. But from inside the park they also successfully conceal most of the traffic on the Skipton Road, at least in summer, so the view is an uninterrupted leafy landscape.

To give an idea of where I started this walking project, here’s a map taken from one of the interpretation boards with my additions to show the location of the first two posts in this series. Part three to follow in due course!

Map of Cliffe Castle Park

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!

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.

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.

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.