Archives for posts with tag: Watercolour

Watercolour drawing of Keighley National Shell Factory in WW1

When I was given a list of objects to draw to illustrate the Story Trail for the Keighley’s War exhibition at Cliffe Castle, some things seemed pretty straightforward, and others – well, not. One of them was a small sepia photograph of workers in the National Shell Factory in Keighley. Indistinct, detailed, crowded, complex, and behind glass – I was at a loss as to quite how I was going to approach it.

But as it turned out, it was perhaps the most fascinating and enjoyable subject of all the curious objects I drew, and a lot of this was due to the way I set about doing it.

My usual sketching method relies a lot on line, and a pen is what I generally start with. But here I could see that was simply not going to work – the photograph was simply a mass of complicated tonal values. So I decided to jump straight in with watercolour with almost no drawing, even in pencil, and build it in stages as a painting. (Click on any of these images to see them larger).

Stage one in the painting process, broad washes of pale colour

Once I’d got to the halfway point I realised it would be interesting to record it stage by stage, so I’ve had to simulate stage one by editing the second stage photo with a bit of bleaching and blurring, but basically the first thing I did was to put down large washes of pale colour and tone with no detail at all, reserving just a few small white unpainted areas. Then in the next stage I started to construct by blocking in more tone and colour, leaving pale spots for faces and highlights…..

Stage two, building detail slowly

Stage two, above, has moved on quite a bit from just pale washes. I worked with a 1/2″ dagger brush which was exactly right for this painting (I love this brush and use it more and more often – it gives you sharp, dead straight lines and very precise detail at the same time as lovely big, broad, fluid, flowing strokes. Very exciting.)

Stage three, below, doesn’t look a whole lot different but by this time I’ve started to deepen and darken certain areas and define some parts more clearly.

Stage three, more detail, darkening tones

And finally I worked in just enough detail to focus on some of the principal faces and some bits of machinery. (Here I did use a very small amount of line with a pen – and here and there a touch of watercolour pencil, plus tiny bits of white gouache for highlights).

Finished painting, details of faces, machinery, piles of munitions, the crowded factory floor and the roof structure overhead

I wanted to keep a feeling of the complexity of the scene which is extremely crowded and busy without getting carried away with the detail – so that the principal characters stand out as the focus of the story, along with the machinery they’re using and the work that they’re doing. It would be wonderful to know who these people were, their names, their stories – what exactly was happening there in the factory on this day, November 13th 1915. All I know about them as individuals is what I learned from studying the photograph, but drawing it let me sink into its depths, absorbing how it must have felt to work in this wartime munitions factory.

Just look – here’s the photograph.

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Watercolour sketches of a pot of mint in the sunlight

Pot of mint in the sun on the kitchen windowsill – just watercolour with no line drawing to hang on to.

Sometimes it pays to turn everything on its head. Do something you do a lot of, but in a different way. You don’t really learn, or expand, or grow if you don’t shake things up a bit from time to time.

When I draw, I tend to think in terms of line and contour first. Sometimes if I’m drawing a subject that’s really all about big blocks of shape and colour it’ll be obvious that lines aren’t going to serve me well, and I’ll adapt – but still, in the main, lines are my way of getting a handle on things and so I’ll reach for a pen every time. Which is fine – except you can get stuck in habits that can be limiting.

So when Marc Taro Holmes threw up a new challenge for the month of June I decided I’d join in – no promises about how many days I’ll manage, but the idea of it is just too much fun to ignore.

#30x30DirectWatercolor2018 has its own public Facebook page for participants to post on, so anyone can see what we’re all up to – and people have been signing up from all corners of the globe. It’s all about watercolour with as little line work as possible – just what I need to get me out of my comfort zone and into thinking differently.

Close up of watercolor of pot of mint

I’m only going to do quick sketches and nothing in the least ambitious. But the fun will be sharing my experiences with others and seeing what everyone else is doing – and hopefully growing a bit in the process!

A chameleon does not look much like this….

The animals have returned to Cliffe Castle. The resident creatures (more about them later) are now established in their new home, but on Easter Saturday they were welcomed back with a custom-made rabbit-treat cake with carrot candles and enjoyed the company of invited guests; ferrets, who raced, and an assortment of reptiles and arachnids who occupied the glasshouses. I’d been eagerly looking forward to this event but in the end I couldn’t make it, and only got a tantalising glimpse of what happened from Elaine, my friend and fellow member of the Cliffe Castle Conservation Group who sent me a picture of a chameleon sitting on her hand. (She owned up to being unwilling to handle the tarantula, even though she’s not afraid of spiders. I was happier to have the chameleon. Even photos of large arachnids are not exactly easy for me, though I’m working on this – I’d have liked to have tried drawing one. At a distance.)

Thanks to Elaine Cooper for her hand, the chameleon and this photo

The reason I was keen to see reptiles was a preoccupation I’ve had lately with chameleons, or rather the idea of a chameleon – as in the drawing at the top of this post, which doesn’t look very much like one. They have the ability to change colour according to mood or condition in order to signal this state of affairs to other chameleons and it’s this that I’d been thinking is such a handy device. I wish I could do it, or something like it, because it would be so useful.

My physical and mental state varies from week to week, day to day, minute by minute. The condition I live with (ME) means that I’m never feeling fully well, or at least very rarely and only fleetingly for a few minutes at a time. Mostly I’m on one of about three different levels of un-wellness and I tend to stay on the same level for weeks and sometimes months at a time, but I slide up and down between these levels on a daily, hourly and sometimes momentary basis just to add variety to the mix.

Definately a Green day, overall – but with early outbreaks of Blue shading to a tendency towards Orange in the late afternoon…..

It would be so useful to be able to colour code these changing conditions and broadcast them, in a subtle but demonstrable way. I present as a confusingly erratic presence (or absence) because it’s hard for other people to get a handle on what’s going on. It’s sometimes hard for me to get a handle on it for that matter.

I think of blue as the largely absent state of perfect wellness (happily I do get to experience this in a transient way once in a while, and it’s extraordinarily, gloriously wonderful) and the next level down would be green, which is my highest level and which I call Restricted But Reliable. The next level is yellow, More Restricted, Unreliable. After that comes orange, where I’m basically Poorly, Largely Unavailable; and the bottom level would be red, where thankfully I’ve been only rarely and for short periods, but it would be called something like Completely Unable, Count Me Out.

I don’t know much about chameleons but they seem to be able to change colour rapidly as their situation dictates, and this is how my signalling system would ideally work – and so as long as my colours were understandable to others this would seem like a very handy tool. I wonder if anyone’s tried this, or something like it…….?

Chameleons that are still imaginary but look a bit more like chameleons….

I plan to do some dedicated sketching up at the animal houses soon, and even though there are no reptiles or spiders (except very tiny ones, mostly hiding) I can’t wait to renew my friendship with the rabbits and guinea-pigs, and I’m looking forward to meeting some new animals that that I understand have arrived, which I’ve heard about but never seen. Watch this space!

I try to understand things by drawing them. It helps me think.

Since the Parkland school shooting in Florida last week, like everyone who was appalled that this can have happened, again, I’ve watched and listened, wondering – again – how this can be allowed to happen.

This time the aftermath does seem to be different. Those teenagers who huddled in terror, those who witnessed their close friends being killed beside them – are standing up and demanding that things must change, that laws must change, that politicians must stop taking money from the NRA. And they’re speaking with dignity, with clarity, and determination. It takes my breath away. Just look at this video of Cameron Kasky asking Senator Marco Rubio whether he will pledge not to accept NRA donations…. and read the account of it here.

I’ve read a lot about all the nuances behind the gun laws in America, which from over here in Britain seem hard to understand. I believe absolutely in listening to all sides. The one thing I keep coming back to is the thought of children going to school in fear; having to take part in routine drills for procedure when there is an ‘active shooter in the school’. Having to know how to barricade doors and what a kevlar blanket is for. Fear of any kind is pervasive, corrosive, corrupting – it is massively destructive, both in the short term and over a lifetime. And fear feeds other fears, feeds on itself, breeds distrust, does all kinds of dark and damaging things. All that – and of course you may well be shot, or see your fellow students or your teacher killed.

I try to understand by drawing. Sometimes understanding is impossible, but sometimes it’s possible to imagine more accurately that way. It can be a kind of listening.

I can only draw this story from photographs, and through the eyes of whoever took the picture. I won’t draw people in distress whose privacy I’d always respect but anyone demonstrating, debating, putting themselves in the public eye – these people I can try to celebrate. A small way of showing solidarity.

The#OneWeek100People2018 event starts again this year on March 5th. This year you can bet I’ll be drawing some of the people who are saying ‘Never Again’.

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.

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. 

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.

Finishing the animal enclosures

Everywhere in the park things are taking shape and getting nearer to completion, and even though there’s still a lot to be done, every day there are signs that we’re in the final stages. The animal enclosures and the aviary have now been constructed and the back wall is clearly visible (with work still going on) behind the Grotto – which has now been fully cleared of its tangle of ivy, and has a smart new pair of Victorian style street lights. You can now see the steps of the aerial walkway that climbed from the cave up and across to the flower gardens behind the castle (I haven’t drawn these right, because in my sketch they don’t seem to end up in the cave as they should – the sunlight was very bright that afternoon and the shadows too dark for me to make it out properly). 

The Rose Garden

Beneath the bank of rhododendrons the rose garden has been planted with red and white standard roses in neat lines that look like something straight out of Alice-in-Wonderland, and dainty wooden slatted benches are appearing all over the place, all curvaceous and pretty. (Will they be comfortable? I’m not too sure about this, but time will tell.) 

Glasshouses

Glasshouses and dome

The glasshouses are still getting finishing touches but at least we can see them properly now the hoardings have been removed. A chance for me to try drawing the dome, and make a mess of it – I got all the elipses wrong and the proportions aren’t right either, even after a couple of attempts – but there’ll be plenty of opportunities to practise from now on!

Cherub on the north fountain

And at long last the fountains are complete, cherubs and all. I wish now that I’d had the chance to sketch the top bits before they were hoisted up and fixed in place because actually it’s quite hard to see all the detail, as they’re so high up – but they look lovely.

Cherub on the south fountain

Next Sunday is the Cliffe Castle Garden Party – not the official opening of the completed park as was originally planned (this will happen at a later date) but a chance to celebrate everything that’s happened so far, and with work going on at the speed we’re seeing now, there’ll be plenty more finishing touches ready by then….


More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.

Cliffe Castle Park in Keighley is being restored with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Work started on site back in June 2016 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

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

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

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

Irish band concert on the bandstand

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

Hurricane Blue playing a bandstand concert July 2016

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

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

Fresh Aire 2016 Bandstand sets and spectator

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

Lots to look forward to! 

More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.

Cliffe Castle Park in Keighley is being restored with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Work started on site back in June 2016 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

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

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

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

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

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

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




More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.

​Cliffe Castle Park in Keighley is being restored with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Work started on site back in June 2016 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

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

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

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

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

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

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

More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.