Archives for posts with tag: urban sketching

This is a degu.

Watercolour drawing of a degu

At first glance you might be forgiven for thinking, rat? Mouse? But then you look at the tail…. and you say to yourself, hmm, dormouse? But the size rules that out (it’s bigger than a hamster) and you realise you’re looking at something entirely different from all of these.

Sketchbook page of degu studies in pencil

The first time I sketched them about a fortnight ago in their new home at Cliffe Castle all these thoughts were going through my head and I admit I was confused. In fact as I looked at their little rounded bottoms I kept thinking of guinea pigs, and just once in a while I’d suddenly see something in the eyes or the shape of a nose that made me think rabbit (though that immediately seemed ridiculous) so I kept on looking and drawing, although for a long while all my sketches looked either rat-like or guinea-pig-like – until I felt I knew what I was looking at. Degus. Very special little animals.

For sketching purposes it’s not that easy to see them clearly through the narrow link fence at the front of their enclosure (though after a while I discovered that if you crouch down until you’re on the same level as they are, you can see a lot better – perfect for children, a bit more awkward for me.) So to understand them better, when I got home I looked up some facts, googled photographs and did a couple of drawings from the screen –

Degus, sketched from photographs

– which meant that when I went back again to the animal houses a couple of days ago I had a better idea of what I’d be looking at. (I also learnt that they’re related to guinea-pigs and chinchillas and come from the high Andes, are active during the day but don’t like hotter temperatures, that they’re highly social, and that they live longer and are more intelligent than their near relatives).

Interesting facts – but I can learn a lot by watching.

So I stand with my nose pressed up against the wire, sketchbook and pen ready, and wait.

It’s a warm afternoon, and because of that they’re all inside their custom-built house which has two floors, several entrances and exits and lots of hay for bedding. I can imagine them inside all in a heap, snuggled together. (What’s the collective term for degus, I wonder?) I can just see a couple of noses, two pairs of beady eyes. They’re awake and watching me.

I don’t know if it’s getting cooler or whether they’re just curious, but one by one they start to come out of their house, sniff the air, look around. One or two of them do look at me, one from a lookout position at the top of the plank that leads to their second storey entrance, one perching on the edge of a large empty red bowl. I can see how their tails help them balance. I can see tiny toes, (I know there are five) and ears like crumpled petals.

Watercolour drawing of a degu

I can see their very impressive whiskers. And the tails – with their lovely black tufted ends that I try not to exaggerate, though it’s hard not to…

Watercolour illustration of a degu

Pretty soon one of them ambles slowly over to the green plastic exercise wheel, climbs in and gives it a whirl. I wonder whether I’ll be able to draw those flying feet and have serious doubts, but I give it a go anyway….. and there’s no squabbling when a second degu arrives and also wants a turn. They fit amiably side by side and go racing round together in perfect unison. I can’t draw that.

Drawing of a degu in an exercise wheel

The plastic wheel is also very good for gnawing….

Degu gnawing plastic wheel - pencil drawing

By now I’m beginning to feel I’ve started to get to know them, and the more I watch the more I want to touch and stroke those little rounded backs, feel the sleekness of fur, and if possible very, very gently touch a fragile ear with the tip of my finger. I can’t do that, but drawing almost does it for me; my hand may be holding a pen and touching paper, but my mind is feeling fur, whiskers, skin.

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Ever thought you might like to join in and try sketching in the glasshouses and the park at Cliffe Castle?

Ferns in a hanging watering can, in the glasshouses Cliffe Castle

Louise Garrett and I are planning a series of Sketchwalks at Cliffe Castle. They’ll be a kind of cross between what Urban Sketchers call a sketchcrawl (a fairly informal get-together at a prearranged spot to meet, sketch and enjoy each others company) – and a guided workshop.

We’ll be welcoming Sketchers of all levels of ability and experience – even those who have never sketched before but who’d like to – and exploring sketching skills in the newly opened glasshouses and around the park. A bonus is that the café in the glasshouses is now open!

The sessions will be led by Louise, and the first is on Wednesday February 28th, from 10.30 – 12.30.

The Sketchwalks are being supported by the Parks Dept and Cliffe Castle Conservation Group and are being advertised locally to anyone interested in sketching. They’ll be in sets of 2, the first set Feb 28th and March 14th, and the second set May 16th and May 30th. Numbers have to be limited, due to the workshop format and space limitations – so if you’re interested, more information is on Facebook here – and if you’d like to reserve a place, email cliffe.castle.park@bradford.gov.uk – and you’ll get your place confirmed.

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! 

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……) 

Today the ongoing work in the park was merely a backdrop to a very important annual event, and I made sure I was there to meet some of the visitors and to try to sketch a few very quick portraits. 

Teddy bear sunbathing

The sun shone. In fact it was hot, which perhaps explains why a lot of bears simply lay around on picnic blankets, in various bear-like positions. Though some adopted more thoughtful and even strenuous poses…. 

Short haired bear doing yoga

I’ve often wondered if bears are interested in yoga. This one seemed to be holding a pose with a placid and peaceful demeanour and I couldn’t help thinking this would be a good addition to a picnic. Teddy bear yoga – or perhaps teddy bear Tai Chi? I’d find a bit of practice of that sort in the company of teddy bears very calming – they’re even less stretchy than me, and very much better at acheiving peaceful stillness. Something for next year? 

Teddy in a pushchair

This is Jasper (I know that by his necktie) who was one of the few bears I saw to have acquired a really comfortable seat. No doubt he was going to have to ride home in less style when his owner reclaimed the buggy but in the meantime he was reclining contentedly and observing the crowds queueing for balloons. 

Fluffy grey Me to You bear

And by the time I left some bears like their young owners were looking a bit sleepy…. some were getting squashed into carrying bags or tucked under arms or into the luggage carriers of buggys. This is Baby Bear, a fluffy grey long haired Me To You bear, waiting to be picked up and taken home. 

I took my own bear along to see what was happening. He’s been with me for almost as long as I can remember (off and on – over the years he’s had sabbaticals and gone on expeditions and adventures of his own; at one time he was a remedial teaching assistant) so he’s getting to be a venerable age. People were duly impressed by this – he must have been the oldest bear there. 

Bear accompanying me sketching