Archives for posts with tag: art materials

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! 

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Demolition work in June 2016

Back in June last year when I started this project that I’ve called Drawing The Work, I had no idea quite what might come of it. Four and a half sketchbooks and a pile of looseleaf drawings later, and I realise it’s taken on a life of its own, and it isn’t finished yet. But since this Sunday saw the opening of the display of all my work in Cliffe Castle Museum it seems like a good time to talk a bit about what it’s like to sketch in the park, and how I go about doing it. So what follows is the How, followed by the Why, in two parts. 

1. Practical matters: tools and equipment 
People always seem interested in my sketching kit – well, other sketchers are, anyway – so here’s the chance to see what’s in my bag. (Part one may get a bit technical so if you’re not a sketcher you may want to skip to part 2).

Mini sketching kit in a bag

Essentials: small bag on a strap that I always wear. It’s just big enough to hold 2 or three pens with different inks, sometimes a pencil, 2 waterbrushes (one with water, one with indigo ink diluted about 50:50 with water) a couple of sheets of kitchen paper and my mini-palette (see below).

This is my absolutely basic essential kit and goes with me everywhere – most days I go out with just this little bag and a spiral bound sketchbook. Most of my pens are Lamy Safari, and the one I use the most (and love the best) is the one dangling from the strap on the front of the bag; it’s a Lamy Safari Vista filled with De Atramentis Document ink that’s permanent and waterproof. I have other pens with other colours of ink, some waterproof and some not, and those I vary from day to day. The strap across the front of the bag is mostly for hanging pens on when I’m actually sketching, for easy access and a quick draw (!) and there’s a mini-pocket and a flap-strap with velcro to hold other things, like kitchen paper for blotting and brush cleaning. I don’t often take a water pot with me but usually rely on waterbrushes; although they have their drawbacks they’re incredibly useful especially since I do all my sketching standing up. 

My homemade mini-palette

My homemade mini-palette made from plastic packaging for inter-dental toothbrushes. The watercolour pans are blister packs for indigestion tablets.

I try to keep everything I carry as lightweight as possible so this tiny palette is ideal as it weighs almost nothing. I’ve also added a strap across the back made from 2.5cm masking tape that I can slide a flat stick of rigid card through, and then this gives me a paintbox-on-a-stick, that I can hold in the same hand as my sketchbook:

Paintbox-on-a-stick

Paintbox-on-a-stick – looking a bit battered now. I may have to make a new one soon; the corners started to leak and I patched them up with nail polish. 

I’ve used many different sketchbooks over time but I’ve never got over feeling inhibited by books that have expensive paper. I want to be able to draw fast and fill pages with drawings that may be terrible, especially if I’m warming up after not sketching for a few days, so I use A5 sketchbooks by Crawford and Black which are really cheap, and are spiral bound so that I can open the book right up and fold it round to hold it easily in one hand. In fact the paper is surprisingly good – it works fine for drawing with a pen, and takes light watercolour washes, and I rather like the way watercolour behaves on this paper – washes tend to ‘bloom’ a lot because of the sizing.

A5 Crawford and Black sketchbook

A5 Crawford and Black sketchbook. I reinforce the cover by taping some of the first pages to the inside of it to make it more rigid. 

If I want to do a sketch that’s more painterly in a watercolour way, I use a loose sheet of heavy (300gsm) watercolour paper cut and folded into a concertina-fold strip – this way I can end up doing either a panoramic landscape view, or a series of sketches related to each other that make up a story. 

Panoramic sketch of the old toilet block

Panoramic sketch of the old toilet block on a concertina-fold sheet of watercolour paper

I’ve already mentioned that I do all my sketching standing up. There are several reasons for this; firstly I’m more comfortable that way, and also I’ve noticed that people don’t come up and peer at what you’re drawing as much if you’re standing rather than sitting. I don’t mind this and I like talking but it can be a bit distracting, and more importantly I need to get into exactly the right place to get the best view of what I’m drawing which often means walking about and moving frequently from one place to another, especially if I’m sketching work that’s in action. This is fine, but standing in one place to do a drawing for more than ten minutes gets tiring. Holding a sketchbook in one hand like this can be a strain. So I have an adaptable contraption like a tray with a strap, that supports my sketchbook and takes the weight of it off my arm. The strap goes round my back and over my shoulder, like a guitar strap, and the whole thing is held together with binder-clips. 

Wearable drawing-board with a strap

Wearable drawing-board with a strap, made from two hardback A4 desk-diaries with all the paper removed, and only the hard binders remaining. Overlapping and clipped together they can make a longer rectangular shaped board…

Wearable drawing-board with a strap, unassembled

…. when unclipped, the two A4 binders sit next to each other to make them more compact to carry about. 

I carry all this stuff in a cotton bag with a long strap that I can sling across me to walk easily, and I’ve become easily identifiable at a distance because of this bag. I don’t know if this is a good thing or not – it means I can’t easily sneak up on people and draw without being noticed… 

Cotton carrying bag

Cotton carrying bag, not rain proof, so I have a plastic carrier bag in it just in case.

I always have my phone camera with me and I do sometimes take reference shots, to remind me about colour if I add watercolour later at home – I sometimes do this if there isn’t time to paint on the spot or if there’s a lot of rapid complicated work going on, just so I catch anything that happens a bit too fast to sketch. But I do this as little as possible and I seldom actually draw from photos. I find this quite hard to do as I’m not really seeing the thing itself but just an image of it, and it feels unresponsive. The exception is if I want to do a recognisable and careful portrait of someone, and then a photo helps. 

Michael Scarborough, of The Friends of Cliffe Castle and the Conservation Group

Michael Scarborough, of The Friends of Cliffe Castle and the Conservation Group, at the occasion of the raising of the dome on the glasshouses

This pretty much sums up the how, but then there’s the why.  

2. Why Draw? And Why Cliffe Castle? 

People sketch for different reasons, all individual, all of them valid. I can only talk about why I do it, and there are two reasons; one is to record – actually it would be better to say witness – and the other is to understand, discover, and connect. Something happens when you stand in front of a thing and draw it that is quite different from simply looking at it or taking a photograph of it; sketching is an encounter, and after drawing something you have a relationship with it that you didn’t have before, and that you’ll never forget. This is what Urban Sketching is about. 

I first discovered the Urban Sketchers movement back in 2015 and it’s had a huge influence on my drawing. Realising that there are people all over the world who have the same compulsion to sketch from life as I do, and being able to see their work online and share mine as well has been absolutely life changing. Without this feeling of being part of a sketching community I would never have had the confidence to start my sketching project Drawing The Work, and as it’s gone on I’ve had so much encouragement and support – especially from Yorkshire Sketchers. 

And I can’t talk about Urban Sketchers without mentioning  Richard Johnson, news illustrator and Urban Sketcher whose extraordinary drawings – and writing – have made such an impact on me. Rather than try to explain what his work is like I’ll leave it for you to discover yourself; have at a look at Why We Draw and you’ll see what I mean. 

Cliffe Castle is on my doorstep, which means I’m extremely lucky to have such good sketching opportunities close enough for me to reach. My condition with ME/CFS means I can’t make long excursions but I can get to the park almost every day. The Parks Department and Museum staff have been an enormous help, always interested and encouraging and ready to give me time to answer questions (sometimes very long lists of them) and now and again take me on supervised tours of the building site. 

So, special thanks to Dan Palmer the Heritage Officer (seen above, one grey and muddy day back in March), Mel Smith the Parks Manager (who I have yet to sketch – I promise I will!), Dave Bennison the Parks Technical Officer, Daru Rooke the Museum Manager (it was Daru and Dave who first made contact with me when I was sketching them peering excitedly into an excavation at the site of the pond) and Geri Abruzzese (whose job title I’m not sure of, but who always seems to be around in the Gardener’s Lodge whenever I need something). And a very big thank you to Kirsty Gaskin the curator at the museum who has made such an exceptional job of the exhibition of my sketches. 

Thank you all, for reading. And as always, do get in touch if you’d like to – leave a comment here below this post or send me a message through my contact page. 

If you’re already a sketcher, happy sketching – and if you’re not, why not give it a try? 

Deborah 

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Inspired by Liz Steel’s latest post ‘Lightening My Load’ I just sketched my all time most successful mini-sketching kit. I’m always trying to keep the tools and materials I use down to a minimum. I made this little bag some time ago as a prototype and meant to make a better one more carefully from superior materials (this is blue cotton needlecord) but it’s worked so well I’ve still not got round to making another. I carry it everywhere I go. It’s just big enough to carry 4 pens, a pencil, a brushpen, a waterbrush and a tiny homemade palette – 6 watercolour pans made from bits of an empty Rennies blister pack, filled with Winsor and Newton tube paint and stuck into an empty bit of plastic packaging with a folding lid (origin unknown – I think it originally had interdental brushes in it).

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I wear this small bag slung across me on a long (detachable) strap but occasionally change this to a shorter one so the bag hangs round my neck at chest height. Perhaps the best part is that pens can be clipped onto the strap that runs across the front, so they’re ready for a ‘quick-draw’ (no pun intended) – and this also solves the problem of where to put the top of the pen when drawing, if like me you don’t like the balance of a pen with the top stuck on the other end.

Having a small and simple piece of equipment that does exactly what I need it to do in a reliable uncomplicated way makes me strangely happy.

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I have a new brush, unlike any brush I’ve ever used before because it’s a brush that thinks it’s a pen – it fills with water like a fountain pen fills with ink, and the brush is where a nib would be. It’s called a Water Brush (this one is made by Pentel) and it’s quite weird to use. I need practice.

I decided to try it out by doing a small quick sketch of my neighbour’s front garden, full of winter pruned bushes all hunched and huddled in the dusk on a cold afternoon.
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The more I draw every day, the more things I see that want to draw; everyday things that I see all the time. Suddenly my seeing sense has woken up again after a period of hibernation. Colours jump out at me. Shapes catch my eye. Pattern, texture, light and shadow have my attention before I’ve even realised it. Today this patch of garden is full of dark colour; tomorrow it may well be transformed by snow.

Sketching spontaneously when I see something that grabs me is not always easy to do and I’m out of practice, so it’s a good opportunity to experiment with new tools and materials that open up new possibilities.

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Back to the Water Brush – if you squeeze the soft plastic body of the brush, the water flows out more fully into the bristles and you can pick up colour straight from a watercolour pan; then when you apply colour to the paper you can soften this out as more clean water flows into the bristles. It takes a bit of getting used to, but for sketching on location it would be really helpful as you could manage without a water pot – which is what these brushes were created to do. Big, graded washes are not going to be viable but overall the possibilities are huge. Lots of artists use them with water soluble pencils and I haven’t tried this yet.

Being more like a pen to hold, quite a lot of the time I find myself using the brush more like a pen. It comes back to a fiendishly sharp point as the bristles are sturdy nylon, though at the same time it’s soft and responsive enough to do a lot of the things you’d want in a painterly sort of way (though it’s very unlike using a sable watercolour brush).

So this exciting – more learning, experimenting, looking at new possibilities and hopefully changing the way I do things.

Note: this post appears in a slightly different form on another WordPress blog of mine. If you see it there there’s no plagiarism – or at least only by me!
Wordpress has weekly writing and photography challenges – but how about a regular drawing challenge?