Archives for posts with tag: Cliffe Castle Park Restoration Project

Throughout the whole restoration project at Cliffe Castle I was reluctant to draw the new glasshouses, at first because the site was mostly hidden behind security fences and was hard to see. I sketched the dome when it first arrived on site and later when it was raised, by a huge crane, and carefully lowered onto the framework.

And earlier still, right back at the beginning when things were being demolished, I sketched the old glasshouses to capture them as they were before they disappeared.

But for the last month or so the terrace has been complete (although we’re still waiting for the animal houses and aviaries to be finished) so I didn’t really have an excuse, other than the weather. I kept telling myself I really must have a go, but every time I looked at them I was alarmed by the technicalities – delicate white glass structures are hard to draw and the dome is full of complex elipses, (spot where I got that wrong) not to mention the perspective and the fact that whole thing is built on a hill. So in the end, especially as it’s still cold and often windy (today we’ve got intermittent storms of sleet) I took numerous careful photographs and worked from those. I don’t really enjoy doing this – it doesn’t give me the buzz that working directly outside on location does, and I never feel I’ve really connected with the place – but it does mean I could take my time working out how to get to grips with all that spindly white framework. Unfortunately it also made me work less spontaneously and fluidly and much more tightly than I normally do these days – but hey, these things happen. Now I know the structure better and next time I sketch it – from life, hopefully! – I’ll be more relaxed and look forward to drawing it in a completely different way.

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Working on the Animal Houses

Those who recall Cliffe Castle from years ago will remember there were always animals of one kind or another, and birds. Stories from far back in living memory tell of peacocks that roamed about and occasionally got into other people’s gardens and even into the classrooms of Greenhead School (before the days of University Academy Keighley). Going even further back some people remember a parrot, and someone told me the other day there were pot-bellied pigs. When I first came to Keighley there were chickens in a pen below the old playground. But the animals I remember best and loved the most were the guinea-pigs and the rabbits, and these buildings that I sketched earlier this month and which are still being finished will be their new home. I’ve been longing for them to return and it’ll be wonderful to have them back. (Birds will return to the aviaries, but which and when remains to be seen). 

Construction work on the animal houses

At the same time, at the other end of the glasshouse terrace, the café is being fitted out – at the moment still at the carpentry stage, counters, shelving, storage units – and this is tremendously exciting because we’ve all been waiting so long now since the old café closed. 

Work on fitting out the café

This new one will be so much better in so many ways. Wonderful views, much more comfortable, good hot cups of tea and coffee (and much more besides) – and dog-friendly, as the covered patio at the Tower House end of the terrace has an adjoining door, so that dogs and their owners can sit in comfort together, sheltered but apart from the main indoor café.

It’s cold in the park these days (today it snowed) and not easy to sketch outside. My fingers get stiff, and recently I’d been struggling with a painful finger and thumb on my drawing hand that wouldn’t straighten, which is now thankfully much better due to a cortisone injection. For a while I was sketching in a whole new strange and wonky way, but things are getting back to normal. 

Until the café opens the glasshouses are still not open to the public either as this requires an on-site presence, so it’s even more eagerly awaited, and for now all we can do is to peer through the windows, admire the cacti and watch the carpenters at work. Me, I’m looking forward to somewhere warm to sketch from – that, and a good hot cup of tea. 

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……

Back in the summer while work on the restoration project was still in the building phase, children from several primary schools in Keighley put together a collection of objects – newspaper cuttings, coins, stamps, things they’d written – to seal up inside a time-capsule to be buried under the Norfolk Island Pine beneath the dome in the glasshouses.

Time-capsule for burial in the glasshouse

Ingeniously constructed from sections of drainpipe it looked very impressive, but it didn’t get buried at the time as the glasshouses were then still a building site. However last week it was carefully placed in a hole dug and prepared for it, and covered over and completed with a stone plaque instructing that it should not be reopened before June 2067.

I Iove time-capsules. When my sister and I were children we used to write notes and hide them in the house whenever we could. Not long ago one turned up behind the bath panel where it had been walled up for 50 years, and the current owners of the house were delighted with it and managed to contact us and send it on. The whole idea of walling something up or burying it so that at some distant time it will be discovered and explored by someone living in the future feels a bit like time-travel, and it fascinates me. All through the excavation and demolition phases of the restoration at Cliffe Castle we were hoping that we just might unearth a buried or hidden message, a Butterfield time-treasure purposely concealed – but nothing came to light. 

Milk-bottle and coins unearthed

There were things that had been dropped by accident or thrown away – a milk-bottle, a couple of Victorian coins, jugs and jars and pieces of pottery and numerous mysterious rusty metal objects that were hard to identify, and all their stories remain tantalisingly untold.

Rusty bits and pieces

All this got me thinking what I would put in a time-capsule if I were to make one now, and it would certainly be drawings, or whole sketchbooks. I often feel that sketches are frozen moments in time, almost like fossils. They record the moment something happened and how I saw it, what it meant and how it felt – something that passed through me and ended up on a piece of paper.

Clearing paths after laying tarmac

During the path-laying phase every day ended with a lot of clearing up with brooms and shovels, and since drawing people moving is so difficult but such fun I tried to sketch this action, and mostly with disastrous results. This time I think I caught something – but not without absurd anatomical mistakes 

Guiding the dome into place

The delicate operation of guiding the dome into place on top of the glasshouse. It was a hugely challenging thing to draw because the crane was so enormous, there was so much going on and it all happened fairly quickly – but I couldn’t miss the chance to see what I could get on the page. I certainly remember what went on better from having sketched it – even if this meant focusing on some things and missing others. 

I suppose you could say that this whole project, Drawing The Work – and the posts on this blog – are a kind of time-capsule, except of course that they’re not buried or hidden; the posts will stay here for anyone to see. 

Visitors to the park at the Heritage Walk

Some of the visitors at one of the Heritage Walks, listening to Claire pointing out features and explaining the building work. I love sketching people when they’re engrossed in looking and listening because they’re unselfconscious and much more interesting to draw. 

The work of the restoration is now almost finished, and from now on, my sketching will be more about life in the park rather than the work of restoring it. A big celebration to mark the completion is going to take place in the park and museum shortly before Christmas on December 10th. The exhibition of Drawing The Work goes on in the museum until January, and we’ve produced greetings cards using a selection of my sketches which will be on sale at the Christmas celebration and in the museum shop.

My Cliffe Castle posts here will now mostly be under the heading Life In The Landscape, and I’m looking forward to a whole new programme of sketching possibilities. Hope you’ll follow me on the adventure! 

Not too long ago I was sketching up at the glasshouse terrace, the only part of the park that was still a building site. Walls were being built at the edge of the walkway that will curve along the front of the animal houses and aviary, and I was watching (and sketching) a skillful bit of bricklaying. After a while the bricklayer stopped to go off in search of something and as he passed me in the carpark he asked what I was doing, so I explained. (It seems he hadn’t been working on the site all that long and hadn’t seen me before). 

The conversation went like this:

Bricklayer: Are you an artist?
Me: Yes. I’ve been drawing this project since the beginning….
Short pause.
Bricklayer, thoughtfully: Only difference is, I draw with a trowel, and you draw with a pencil. 

I liked this, and wrote it down – though I didn’t really need to write it to remember it. It says a lot about what drawing is. Of course bricks (or Yorkshire stone) aren’t a sketchbook and a wall isn’t a drawing, but a trowel is a tool just as much as a pencil or a pen, and bricklaying and drawing both require eye/hand co-ordination and a lot of practice. When you do a lot of it and practise often, you get better at it and it more often goes well. Not always – and I imagine bricklayers have good days and bad days just as a sketcher does, though the consequences of a bad bricklaying day could be more serious and long lasting than the times that I do wonky unsatisfactory drawings. I can just turn the page and start another sketch, and try not to mind when things don’t go right – though it’s a fact that I never get over the feeling of uneasiness whenever this happens. After days of not drawing, when I need a lot of warming up before anything will flow there’s always a small sinking feeling, a nagging little voice that says you’ve lost it, it’s never going to go right. It does come right, eventually, after a fair bit of exercise, but it always feels the same. 

I was talking about this with a sketcher-friend of mine recently, Louise Garrett, and she had what I think is the brilliant idea of carrying a rough book around as well as a current sketchbook. Something to scribble in and do quick drawings with lots and lots of looking, lots of warming up. Drawing is like dancing, or singing. It’s a physical-neuralogical-emotional thing, and you have to respect that and be patient. And just do the work. 

My ‘Drawing The Work’ project and the exhibition now on in Cliffe Castle are going to be the focus of the October session of Bradford Museums’ ‘Responses to Art’ programme – this coming Thursday, 5th October, 10.30 – 3.00. Very unfortunately I’m not going to be able to be there myself, but Joe Bean from Yorkshire Urban Sketchers is going to come along and talk about Urban Sketching – and hopefully bring lots of examples of his own work. Joe loves building sites just as much as I do and draws them brilliantly – he’s just done a wonderful series of sketches of the demolition of the historic South Stand at Headingley Stadium. I’m thrilled that people will be able to see his work at Cliffe Castle and have a chance to hear him explain what Urban Sketching is all about – like me Joe is a passionate urban sketcher! 

Anyone interested in going along on Thursday should ring Cliffe Castle to book a place, on 01535 618231. It should be an interesting day! 

View from the glasshouse terrace

View from the glasshouse terrace

There are still things to do, but at last the sloping terrace in front of the glasshouses is no longer a building site full of heaps of reserved topsoil and piles of hardcore and gravel. This view that I sketched a couple of weeks ago is now already a thing of the past; now the carefully raked surface that was a glowing tawny and russet brown in the afternoon sunshine has been covered with turf and is a beautiful green lawn.

The diggers are mostly gone, and I miss the excitement of their sheer bulk, their lumbering unpredictable movements and the colour and animation they brought to the site. There are many things I regret not documenting better, and I wish I’d drawn more of all the different kinds of diggers and dumpers and cranes that have come and gone, all with their own specialities and peculiarities. I find all of them exciting.

Digger on the glasshouse terrace

Digger on the glasshouse terrace

I haven’t drawn any of them with the care and attention they deserve, either – and neither have I learnt anything about hydraulics or the engineering of heavy plant (I love the use of the word ‘plant’ when it refers to machinery – as when you see a sign saying ‘Plant Hire’ and you know it’s not about renting a rhododendron, or my favourite traffic-sign that warns of ‘Heavy Plant Crossing’. I would have loved to have seen a sign in the park saying ‘Heavy Plant at Work’. Wouldn’t that have been something.)

Plants of the more usual kind have begun to appear in the glasshouses and I hope to get the chance to see more of this soon – I just had the briefest glimpse through the door the other day. Cactii, succulents – all kinds of soft beguiling colours and strange and exciting shapes. At last architecture and planting is coming together, and what’s been just a vision and plans on paper is becoming something real…..

Trial planting of ferns for a 'rootery' in the glasshouse

Trial planting of ferns for a ‘rootery’ in the glasshouse

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’ve been following progress and sketching whenever and wherever I could. I’ve called the project Drawing The Work, and my sketchbooks and watercolours are now on display in Cliffe Castle Museum until Christmas. 

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……) 

There’s no other way to say it – the pond liner leaked. A plastic liner was not a good choice it seems, and perhaps it was fortunate that it failed quickly before it was too late to put it right even at this late stage. This is what it looked like when I drew it in April – 

And this was what it looked like a couple of weeks ago when preparations had started for laying a new concrete liner – 

I learnt a lot of technical stuff about cement and construction in the course of all this. Some of it I was familiar with but other things were new to me (and as usual I didn’t catch all the action, only some of the highlights). 

The day the cement was due to be poured and spread I went up to the site earlier than usual, but arrived at ‘brew-time’ and since everyone had been hard at it for a while they stopped for tea while I warmed up my sketchbook, which was lucky for me because as soon as work started again it was all about sketching non-stop movement. Even though I’ve been drawing the work regularly for over a year I’ve still not had much practice observing the action involved in trundling a wheelbarrow, levelling with a rake or crouching down and smoothing with a trowel. Too often all this kind of work has been going on at a distance behind security fence and hoarding – but this time there was plenty of opportunity to try to draw movement…… 

…… and realise immediately how little I understand wheelbarrows, for one – and what pushing one really looks like. 

Anyway I observed how concrete can be made to stick to a steep slope such as the side of a pond without all sliding down to the bottom, how everything has to be timed right and how the weather affects the drying, and how this is very much a team effort. Very little talking went on – or much less than usual – it was focused, concentrated work. And great to draw. 

I had to leave after about an hour and a half and went back the following day to catch up with what came next. The length of the pond has been divided in three sections by two trenches prepared to take expansion tape (that’s one of them, carefully protected by black plastic in the second sketch above) – so the work of pouring, levelling and smoothing was being done in stages, one part at a time. 

Part two coming in the next few days……! 

The best parties are the ones that are not necessarily the most spectacular, but all you remember is having fun and enjoying the day! 

Sketchers preparing for a behind-the-scenes tour of the unfinished glasshouses

Unexpected fun – Sketchers preparing for a privileged behind-the-scenes tour of the unfinished glasshouses

Museum sketching in the Conservatory - Gina Glot's drawing of the carved marble urn

Museum sketching in the Conservatory – Gina Glot’s drawing of the carved marble urn shaped like a shell

I was so busy meeting people at the Garden Party last Sunday that I didn’t get a chance to do any sketching, but luckily there were others who did! At long last I had the chance to meet up with sketchers who until now I’d only known online, through Yorkshire Urban Sketchers and Sketch That Leeds. For them it was a chance to enjoy the action, to see some of the things I’ve been sketching in the park all year, to explore and draw in the museum – and to get a behind-the-scenes look at the still unfinished work when they were taken on a tour of the glasshouses (hence the hard hats). 

Sketchers from Sketch That Leeds, drawing dancers in the museum

Sketchers from Sketch That Leeds, drawing dancers in the museum. (Note the vital piece of equipment peeping out of the bag; I thought for a minute Helen had brought along a little friend but the weather was a bit variable – we all came prepared)

Sketching the action

Sketching the action (I never got the chance to see the drawing so I don’t know if the fellow in the foreground who looks about to dash in and join the dance got into the picture too….)

Meeting Sketchers at lunchtime in the Lodge

Meeting Sketchers at lunchtime in the Lodge

Joe Bean's sketch of the jazz trio playing outside the Conservatory

Music in the park; Joe Bean’s sketch of the jazz trio playing outside the Conservatory

The tour of the glasshouses was an unexpected extra and although no-one got a chance to sketch there, everyone realised what an exciting place it’s going to be from a sketching point of view. The views are going to be magnificent and the buildings themselves are going to be even more wonderful when they’re planted up with ferns and succulents and cacti and the Norfolk Island Pine. And of course, there will be the café! 

Mel Smith Parks Manager showing Sketchers the glasshouses

Mel Smith the Parks Manager showing Sketchers the glasshouses – standing on the terrace that will be in front of the café

In front of the café

The open end to the café glasshouse row

At the end of the café row of glasshouses the structure will be a covered roof, with no walls – so you can sit or stand there sheltered from the weather but still enjoying the fresh air and with uninterrupted views across the lawn to Cliffe Castle and Airedale

And the exhibition of Drawing The Work is now open in the museum, in the Breakfast Room next to the Conservatory – a long glass cabinet displaying my sketchbooks and drawings, accompanied by some of the objects in the sketches, watched over by Queen Victoria’s beady eye…. 

Display in the Breakfast Room

Sketched objects, and the objects themselves

Display cabinet with drawings

It’s humbling to see my work on show alongside the extraordinary objects and works of art in the museum. There are some wonderful things in this room and it felt quite startling to come into the museum and see my drawings and sketchbooks next to the things that I love to sketch! Over on a table in the corner are the four facsimile sketchbooks next to a welcoming sofa where people can recline in comfort and browse the books, under the gilded chandalier in the marvellous surroundings of what was the Butterfield’s everyday dining room. I love this mixing up of the past, the present and the future – and I’m so enjoying being able to share my sketchbooks like this. I look forward to meeting more of the people who like me are fascinated by the way history unfolds in front of us day by day – and to more urban sketching! 

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