Archives for posts with tag: sketching people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STOP ALL WASTE!

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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.

​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. 

From time to time the Conservation Group volunteers organise a guided walk in the park to give people a chance to find out a bit about what’s going on, and learn something of the history that’s the reference for all the restoration work – and last Saturday morning was a spectacularly beautiful day for a walk in the park. I tagged along and observed from a little way off, sometimes hiding behind a tree in the hope that people wouldn’t notice me sketching and get self-conscious.

Starting at the museum entrance where people gathered on the steps, we trooped around the corner to the Grotto behind the Conservatory to learn some interesting facts about this strange and rather neglected part of the park (it’s a weird feature and I’ve been studying it recently, intending to do a whole post on it; here’s a sketch by way of a preview) – 

Those who weren’t daunted by the damp gloominess of the tunnel obediently shuffled through it and out into the spring sunshine on the other side, and I got chatting to Councillor Zafar Ali from Bradford Council who had noticed me sketching and wanted to have a look. (We exchanged cards, and I ended up using his with a picture of him on it to cover up the drawing I did of Claire as she delivered her commentary at the Grotto. I’ve been trying to sketch members of the group whenever I get the chance and so far I’ve only captured her from a distance so I thought this was an opportunity not to be missed, but it was such an appalling drawing I had to find a way to get it out of sight. I’m determined to do better soon.)

The next stop was at the other end of the Castle at the children’s playground, a good place to sketch from a slight distance without being too obvious. By now Claire was really getting into her stride; I was really enjoying her commentary and it was obvious a lot of other people were too… 

Then it was down the hill to Dark Lane and across to the other side of the park by the Holly Lodge entrance, and I stalked the walkers as they wound along Dark Lane path and then crept up on various individuals in the crowd. 

Next the bandstand. This is always an interesting talking point as many people wonder why the 1960’s design is not being rejected in favour of something more Victorian, but the fact is that it does a really good job, acoustically, and what we want is a bandstand that works. So it’s getting a makeover – the roof has been repaired, and it’ll be made sound and spruced up. Philip did an acoustic demonstration – 

Last stop was the pond, and by now I’d filled several pages of sketchbook and run out of steam. The next Heritage Walk run by the Conservation Group will be on Saturday 29th April, starting at 11.30 – so if you fancy a walk in the park, put the date in your diary! 

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.

The restoration project at Cliffe Castle is funded under an initiative called Parks For People. I’ve been sketching the work since it began last June, but when the building and landscaping is completed later this year, the project will continue – only from then on, it’s all about the life of the park as a living landscape, a place where people and nature can come together. I’ll carry on drawing. Instead of Drawing the Work I’m thinking of using the title Life in the Landscape – so from time to time titles such as this one will start to pop up here now. Hope you’ll want to keep following the story! 

Since work started last summer the population of the park has been swelled by a small army of workmen, but regular park-users still come every day, occasional visitors come from further afield, and everyone has their own reasons for being there and their favourite places to be. 

With work in progress, many of the figures in the landscape wear high-vis clothing, workboots and hard hats, but the regulars are there too, every day, doing whatever they do

It’s easy to see what some people are doing. I go there to walk, to sketch, and to take photos. I also go there to think, to clear my head, and to stop thinking (and I know plenty of other people do this too). I spend a lot of time just watching things; trees, sky, dogs (and their owners); birds, rabbits, squirrels; and the landscape of the Aire Valley. 

And a lot of the time I watch people, because that’s what a park is – a living landscape, with people doing what they do. 

The playground is one of my favourite parts of the park.

People of all ages, shapes and sizes come to the playground. There’s something there for everyone; smaller children bounce, swing, twirl, clamber, crawl and slide. Parents and grandparents push, guide, encourage, and watch; then they sit, and stand, and talk. Teenagers come there after school to hang out and chat as well as swing clamber and climb. And in the summer there’s the ice-cream van. (I love sketching here, but in case you’re wondering – in this location I never draw faces, and never make anyone recognisable, at least not if I can help it – particularly children. It’s an invasion of privacy.)

Other people come to walk their dogs, and play with their dogs, and to let their dogs play with other dogs, and to exercise….

The daily flood of school students on their way home through the park. (The figure in the distance, top left, is a dog walker and not someone having a tussle with a goat)

Children walk home from school. Families come to play cricket and football, and in summer to have picnics, to meet, to lie on the grass, to eat ice-cream, to hang out and to listen to music on the bandstand. 

And some people do things that are difficult to describe, but interesting to watch….

There are as many reasons for coming to the park as there are people who come there, which is what makes it such an interesting place to be. It’s life played out in the landscape. No wonder I never get bored.