Archives for category: Watercolour

Quick observations in the playground

I don’t often write about it, but I suffer from ME/CFS (which I’ve had for 30 years).  It’s one of the reasons that I sketch the way I do (in short bursts, and fairly quickly), and also why sketching is so important to me (more of this in a minute).

When I started sketching the restoration work at Cliffe Castle I didn’t know how often I’d be able to get up to the park or how much I’d be able to do, because my condition is variable and unpredictable, but it turned out that I managed quite a lot. And somewhere along the line I realised that Urban Sketching of this kind, with the support and encouragement of other Urban Sketchers, had made a huge difference to the way I felt and to what I was able to do.

I also began to think that it was important for other people to realise this as well, because it’s probably not obvious that sketching on location is something that can be so useful in managing a chronic condition – not just to people like me with a disability but also to people who aren’t disabled, to make it easier for them to understand what I can do and what I can’t. And an added bonus is that I’ve become more confident and better at explaining this, which makes things easier for everyone.

The exciting thing is that this month’s edition of Drawing Attention, the online newsletter of the international Urban Sketchers organisation has picked up on this theme, and back in December I was interviewed for an article on the subject which has now been published! (Note: it’s better viewed in an internet browser on a computer rather than on a tablet or phone).

When I sketch I disappear into a space and time that separates me from everything else that’s going on around me, which is one of the reasons it’s so important to me and why it’s such a useful tool in a situation that would otherwise be overwhelming and exhausting. Drawing is tiring, but much less tiring for me than talking and listening and interacting with people (no matter how much I’m enjoying the conversation!)

I’m amazed at what the last two years have taught me. I hope more than anything that other people can discover this too. 

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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……

Fallen leaves

The days are so short now that the light is often fading by the time I get up to the park, so I’m watching where I put my feet (it’s often muddy) and with my eyes down what I mostly see is the ground. But this is often the best place to look for the most colour and beauty on a dark misty afternoon. I can’t help picking up leaves one after the other just to marvel at them – whole trees look spectacular when they turn gold, as some do – but individually every leaf is a world of beauty. There are so many of them lying around everywhere, making a nuisance of themselves on the paths and lawns and having to be raked and swept up – and yet each one taken separately is so incredibly lovely and every one unique.

Most of the trees have lost their leaves now, and this year some never turned the truly glorious colour we hope for in Autumn anyway, but near the Beechcliffe entrance there are three handkerchief trees that always turn a wonderful golden yellow, and these still glow in the fading light, so yesterday I did a fast sketch of one of them before the cold made me move on.

Handkerchief tree

I did a brisk walk, round to the pond, (enjoying the fountains) up to the Castle (a quick look at the animal houses that are still not finished, but it was too dark there to draw) and over to the playground where there were a few mothers, hands in pockets and coats zipped and buttoned, with children all open coated and un-gloved running about and climbing on things with never a thought for the cold.

Mothers in the playground

It may be damp and cold (and the forecast is for it to get colder) and the afternoons may be short and dark, but out there in the park there’s colour and life in the landscape. 

For a long time now I’ve been thinking of ways I could share the experience of walking about in the park with a sketchbook – not just by showing other people what I do but by giving them the chance to do it themselves, and get to know how it feels. Some months ago I was excited to get together with Louise Garrett – a sketching friend and fellow member of Yorkshire Urban Sketchers – and we started to plan ways we could do this. Last Thursday we ran our first experimental Sketchwalk.

We wanted to make this a welcome-all-comers occasion, something that would be enjoyable for people who’d never sketched before as well as for more experienced sketchers, so we worked out a programme we hoped would be good for everyone and invited some volunteers to come and try it out.

One of the best ways I know to relax and warm up your eye-hand co-ordination and to have some fun is to do some blind contour portrait drawing. You make a hole in a piece of paper and stick this over the pen you’re using, covering your hand so you can’t see the paper you’re drawing on, and you then draw ‘blind’, simply by looking at your subject and feeling your way. The good thing about this is that not even an experienced sketcher is going to be able to make a slick clever looking drawing, but amazingly it seems that everyone always makes a hilariously half-way recognisable portrait – and it’s a great ice-breaker. 

Blind contour portraits

We used ordinary A4 office paper and smooth-flowing ballpoint pens, resting on clipboards, and after we’d done a few of these sketches and laughed at the results we trooped off into the park to do some outdoor sketching using the same materials.

Sketching standing up – one of the things we wanted to help people feel comfortable with!

The café terrace is a great place to sketch from

There are some wonderful new sketching locations now – the glasshouse terrace has some great vantage points. I was a bit worried that we were throwing beginners in at the deep end here, (figuratively speaking) but we suggested starting with several quick sketches before meeting up again to compare notes and it turns out that blind contour drawing really does the trick – it makes you realise that you can sketch something without being worried about what happens on the page, and you’re more inclined to look a lot more at the subject and less at what your pen or pencil is doing. Amazing! 

All kinds of things to draw – quick sketches on the Glasshouse Terrace

We weren’t short of interesting things to draw. I started by sketching part of the castellated top of the Tower House with the delicate white fleur-de-lis ridge decorations of the glasshouses silhouetted against the old dark stone (I added the colour later when I got home to emphasise the dark-against-light, light-against-dark) but I soon became distracted by watching the rest of the group and I started sketching the sketchers. It was a cold day and luckily everyone had dressed up properly – Louise had even come wearing two pairs of trousers, which says a lot about what sort of sketcher she is – absolutely determined to get out and stay out in all weather. 

My page of quick sketches on the café terrace

She’s a phenomenally fast sketcher, too – maybe this helps her to keep warm as she can move more quickly from place to place. I can’t draw for longer than 10 minutes or so at a time without taking a break, and I can’t get anything like as much down on the page as Louise can. It’s fascinating to watch her drawing at breakneck speed with intense concentration.

A few of Louise’s sketches… 

and one with a splash of added colour!

After a while I paused to move to a different viewpoint and couldn’t resist doing a bit of landscape sketching. This is the view across Airedale from the Glasshouse terrace – 

When I got home I splashed some paint onto it as an experiment – this is just ordinary typing or printing paper, not designed for watercolour – but apart from the fact that the paper crinkles like crazy it is possible to get some colour down in quite an interesting way. 

We deliberately used simple, basic, cheap paper because we wanted everyone to see how you can make perfectly satisfactory drawings on paper like this and not be intimidated. Sketchbooks can make you feel a bit self conscious – and loose paper sheets are better for sharing and looking at drawings at the end of a session. Smooth flowing ballpoint pens are good for this kind of sketching, too – you can make strong dark lines and faint ones equally easily, and there’s no question about whether or not to rub something out so that’s not a decision you have to make.

At the end of the morning we gathered back indoors for tea and cake, to warm up and talk through what we’d done and how it had gone.

In just a morning there’s a limit to what you can hope to do, and of course some people had ‘how do I do such-and-such’ questions. We kept it simple, and I hope there will be other opportunities to expand and grow on what we were doing, which was very basic. 

We learnt a lot from this trial run. Even though the group was small we had a good cross-section of people with very different levels of experience and got some very helpful feedback. Our aim was simply to help people feel comfortable about sketching in the park and to see how drawing helps you to focus, notice things, and put everything else on hold for a while – and everyone agreed that the sketchwalk did all that, so together with having a very enjoyable morning, I’d say that counts as a success. There may be some things we’ll do a bit differently when we do this again, but I think it’s a good start – and we’re looking forward to the next time! 

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.

The bandstand roof has been repaired. It required a full framework of scaffolding, ladders, and protective fencing (which made it a pretty interesting thing to climb on) and luckily I managed to sketch it one evening earlier in the Spring before the scaffolding came down. (I love drawing scaffolding). Then the front of the stage needed attention, and the steps, and various other bits and pieces…. 

Some parks have pretty, round, wrought iron Victorian bandstands. They look very nice and especially so with a brass band or a string quartet or a folk band playing in them. I know some people were hoping that the restoration project would include a Victorian design for the bandstand, but actually this kind of structure doesn’t necessarily enhance the music, especially certain kinds of music, or even make it very easy to hear. 

Because of its design – it is after all shaped like a giant megaphone – the bandstand does work really well from an acoustic point of view (as demonstrated by Philip Rushworth not too long ago, on a recent Heritage Walk, seen here) – and I love sketching performances in the park. The musicians are always really enjoyable to hear but also great to watch and wonderful to draw. 

Irish band concert on the bandstand

The bandstand is now ready to host performers again and this Sunday afternoon sees the start of the summer programme of bandstand concerts – starting with Hurricane Blue – who I sketched when they played here last year:

Hurricane Blue playing a bandstand concert July 2016

The sloping lawn is a perfect place to sit and listen to bands play

And there’s always such a variety of music in the bandstand programme – which is another good reason to keep the design of the stage as it is. How would a 6 piece heavy rock/symphonic metal group like Wolf 359 look (or sound) on a pretty little wrought iron bandstand? I sketched them belting out a fantastic set at last year’s Fresh Aire music festival (sadly not happening this summer, but hopefully scheduled again for next year). 

Fresh Aire 2016 Bandstand sets and spectator

The bandstand is such an important part of life in the park and will be welcoming performers and audiences all summer – including of course, at the Grand Opening Party on the 30th July when we celebrate the completion of the restoration and the re-opening of the park. 

Lots to look forward to! 

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 2016 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

Back in April, the bank beneath the glasshouse terrace that stretches between the museum and the junction of paths at the top of the hill near the playground was planted with rhododendrons.* Just last week, a lot more planting started and the lawn in front of the bank is now laid out as planned (I’ll get to sketching all this sometime soon) – but the bank of rhododendrons got me really excited when I first saw it more than a month ago. As soon as the plants were in it looked lovely, but in only a few days some of the little bushes started to throw out buds which soon began to hint at opening, and at this moment they looked so extraordinarily exotic. It made me realise how the Victorians must have seen them, when these plants were new arrivals in England – there’s such drama and excitement about the way the buds prepare themselves as if they’re going to explode into something alien and unknown. As I sketched them I was wondering what they reminded me of and I found myself thinking not of plants at all, but more mythical things. They look like dragon’s eggs, about to hatch. 

Perhaps this isn’t quite as crazy an idea as it might seem. The rhododendrons that were originally planted all along this bank – and on the other side of the house as well, so the the building stood framed by an arc of glorious coloured blossoming bushes – all came from China, famously a land of dragons. And just overhead, clutching a weather-vane and gazing balefully across the lawn towards the Aire Valley is a more gothic, Northern type of dragon, hard to see clearly in detail because it’s perched so high up, but a landmark visible from all over this part of the park.  

A few days later the buds opened and spilled out in a riot of colour. I have to confess that I don’t often get this excited by horticulture, but all this was somehow so much more than I’d expected – I suppose I’d got caught up in the story as much as the drama and beauty of the flowers. 

For such a long time up until now the daily stories in the restoration project have been about chopping down, digging out, excavating and construction, and the landscape has been one of mud and frequently churned up grass – so the start of planting and the sight of these flowers seemed like a real celebration and the start of something new. There’s so much more to come! And already it’s possible to imagine what this part of the park will look like at the same time next year….. more beauty, and lots more stories. 

* For those interested in such things I asked about the varieties of different rhododendrons planted and they include Edith Bosley, Snow White, Mothers Day, Horizon Monarch, Mrs Lowinsky, Albert Schweizer and Delta. The ones I sketched are (probably} Horizon Monarch. 

POSTSCRIPT: it’s not long to go now until the Saltaire Arts Trail – the weekend of the 27th to 29th May – and I’ve sent in another entry to the Postcard Exhibition to be held in the United Reform Church in Saltaire Village – a drawing of a fantastically gnarled old root grubbed out during the relandscaping somewhere in the park. All the postcards will be on display and for sale (at extremely reasonable prices) with the proceeds going to The Cellar Trust – so if you fancy an original watercolour of a genuine Cliffe Castle root get along to the exhibition! 




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 2016 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

Anything that comes to light during the digging and landscaping is exciting. Buried for who knows how long, even the plainest objects are mysterious. These were dug up some time ago from the site of the pond….. 

The broken pieces of ceramic are mostly bits of teacup and maybe a plate, and when you look closely they’re very lovely; where the glaze has cracked the surfaces are covered with an intricate spider’s web of delicate crackling. I enjoyed holding them one by one and gazing at them in the same way I sometimes look at pebbles; things that are at first sight quite ordinary can suddenly reveal themselves to be astonishing when you take the time to look. 

Whenever there’s digging going on (and there’s been plenty of that during the restoration project) everyone always hopes that coins will turn up; golden sovereigns if possible, or a Roman hoard or something of the sort, and this almost never happens. But these two coins were found in the lower field and everyone immediately wanted to know what they were (and if they were valuable). Not very, as it turns out – one is a penny, dated some time after 1860, and the other is less easy to identify because it’s so corroded, but because of its size (smaller than the penny) it could be a mill token – the currency mill owners sometimes used to pay their workers, who could then redeem them for goods in shops also owned by their employer (a strategy convenient and profitable for the owners but less so for their employees). 

The milk bottle immediately filled me with nostalgia as I remember the obligatory morning milk we drank at school which came in almost identical bottles. This one has Bradford Model Milk Co. Ltd Bradford moulded into the glass on one side and BOTTLE 1d DEPOSIT on the other – and it’s in perfect condition, with no chips or cracks. Who forfeited the deposit and dropped it or threw it away, and how did it end up embedded in the footings of the terrace steps below the Castle? 

These are not the first interesting objects to be dug up in various parts of the park during the restoration and I’ve written about some of the other finds, like these, before. They may not be as significant or as dramatic as some archaeological finds that have been made locally, but they have a story of their own, and it’s one that links us to the past in a tantalising way. Who was it that drank tea out of those teacups, and who dropped and broke them? What did that penny buy, and whose pockets and purses did it ride around in? And who was the last person to hold it in the palm of their hand before it was dug up near the site of the pond not long ago? 

All these finds will be on view in the museum in due course, taking their place amongst some of the extraordinary things found in the Aire Valley, some old and some really ancient. One of the most popular exhibits – with children, anyway – is a reconstruction of the giant three metre long newt Pholiderpeton Scutigerum Huxley whose fossilised remains were found in a mine-shaft and which are also on display. Impossible not to be amazed by this thing and marvel at what it must have been like, dragging itself on weak legs through the swamps and bogs of prehistoric Bradford, catching fish. I think it was the first thing in Cliffe Castle I ever sketched, and I’ve drawn it again as a postcard to go in an exhibition as part of  Saltaire Arts Trail (during the weekend of 27th – 29th May) to be held in the United Reform Church in Saltaire Village. These postcards will be on display and for sale (at extremely reasonable prices) with the proceeds going to The Cellar Trust – so if you fancy bagging an original watercolour of Pholiderpeton, get along to the exhibition and scoop it up! 

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 2016 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

After a long pause at the site of the pond when nothing much seemed to be happening, in the last couple of weeks things have really started to move. 

I hadn’t sketched in this part of the park for a long time, but I didn’t realise just how long until I looked back and found that it was back in the summer of last year. Things have moved on quite a bit since then, but there have been delays – mostly because of the complicated infrastructure needed for the workings of the pond and the two fountains – and for a long time there hasn’t been anything much to record. 

But all that changed recently when mysterious box-like brick structures started to appear in the pond itself, and then a great deal of digging and landscaping began all around the perimeter. Pipes were laid in deep trenches that seemed to be going in all sorts of directions. Mounds of topsoil were built up around the site and rockwork began to be laid along the edge of the pond itself – these lines of rock will define the edges of the pond and the path that will go around it. And then a large green cupboard the size of a small shed was installed, evidently full of electrical connections – the control centre for all the filtration and supply for the pond and both the fountains. I haven’t had time to study all this groundwork and infrastructure enough to be able to describe it or explain it properly, but I did manage to catch some of the work as it developed – and things are moving along fast. 

Looking more carefully at all the sketches I’ve done of the pond, I wish I’d thought of doing some drawings at regular intervals from a fixed point. What I’ve got is hardly an accurate record of how the landscape has changed – I can’t even work out if I’ve got the trees in the right places, though the largest ones are roughly where they should be. A landscape architect would have drawn this in a much more faithful and recognisable way! It’s just another of those things that I’m learning as I go along. 

The next exciting thing will be the return of the fountains, fully restored and ready to go back on their bases and have the water supply connected; there’s still a lot to do, but things are shaping up! 

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

The view across Airedale from what will be the viewing terrace, on a chilly December afternoon. (Click on the picture to view a larger image.) 

Between Christmas and the New Year work has stopped. We’ve had rain, gale force winds, mist, and fog. We’ve also had glorious sunshine and clear cold skies with the most spectacular colours at sunrise and sunset, and just recently we’ve had frost so thick and hard that the dips and hollows in the landscape have stayed white and frozen solid all through the day, despite the sunshine. I walked up to the top of the hill and looked down over the top of the children’s playground across the valley and sketched a panorama of Airedale until my fingers were too stiff to move. 

This area is where the viewing terrace is going to be. Right now it’s a sea of frozen mud deeply rutted with caterpillar digger-tracks and fenced off for safety, but when it’s finished it will have wooden picnic tables and for me it’s going to be one of the best places in the park simply because of the amazing view. I never get tired of gazing out over Airedale, and this will be a wonderful place to sit and draw. Or just sit! 

The stepped path that leads to Moorside Wood will start from here. At the moment if you walk up the completed section from the wood towards the tower you find your way blocked by wire security barriers surrounding the work site, which is frustrating, but at least you can see what’s going on. Up at the main building site on the top terrace a long section of the wooden hoarding blew down in the gales at Christmas, so for a few days it was easier to peer through and see the framework of the café glasshouses taking shape. Things are moving on. And in a few days the new year will have begun and work will start again……. 

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.