Wobbly Challenge part 2: #OneWeek100People2017

I knew I wouldn’t get to the full quota of 100 sketches of people this week, (too wobbly – see previous post) but that never bothered me – to be honest, I never even counted. The point of the thing for me was to share the experience of knowing that lots of other sketchers all over the world were doing the same thing, and enjoy seeing what they were all up to. (Use the #OneWeek100People2017 tag to search the internet and you’ll find some amazing stuff.) 

I sketched in the park as usual. I have a bit of an obsession with drawing moving figures; I can’t do it, but it’s what I want to do more than anything else and I get a sort of morbid fascination watching myself try. I thought if I spent all my sketching time this week concentrating on that, I’d have to learn something. I probably did, but with drawing the funny thing is you’re never quite sure because the learning is invisible. Internal. Every now and then I’ll find myself drawing with ease and fluency and suddenly it’ll all go right, and then the next minute I fall off the edge and lose the flow, and do something that’s completely off. 

Since it seemed like a good chance to try to study the subject a bit I got someone I know to walk up and down while I took continuous shots of him on my phone camera, and then used the photos as reference to draw from, quite rapidly, trying to imagine that I was watching him in real life. Surprisingly I found it much more difficult than I’d thought because still shots don’t look real – there’s obviously a lot of processing that happens in our brains that turns the moving object we see into something quite different from what the camera captures. I mean, really, just look at this – 

I think I learned something from that, but I can’t be sure. (I realise it makes a rather odd drawing, particularly because I didn’t bother to get his features right so it looks like a string of different but oddly similar short men doing a strange shuffle from right to left for no apparent reason but with a sense of purpose). 

It all makes me appreciate even more the extraordinary way sketchers like Marc Taro Holmes and Suhita Shirodkar manage to draw movement so beautifully  and make it look so effortless – but equally I realise how much practice it takes. 

So, another strategy – drawing from the TV – and not talking heads; sketching from films. Interesting because just as in life, you get fleeting opportunities to observe faces from different angles and with different expressions. And this is really fun. 

So the week finishes – but I’m on a bit of a roll and I don’t want to stop. Even if I can’t get out and sketch from reality there’s always the TV. No film is ever going to be boring again, no matter how bad! Back to the sketchbook…….. 

Escapee with a Sketchbook

Last Saturday was a day like any other for the people of Saltaire, and anyone noticing me waiting on the station platform or joining the rest of the group of Urban Sketchers meeting up at Salts Mill for a day of drawing would have thought nothing of it. It was a day of clear skies and cold air, but if you stood in the sunshine you could feel the warmth of it and the light was wonderful. I’ve been trying to go along to one of these sketch-crawls ever since I joined the group almost two years ago and I’d never made it – until last week.

I’ve written before about my expeditions into the world where I try to push the boundaries of my life a little, forays into parts of my locality that are small adventures, but I rarely manage anything as satisfying as this. I couldn’t manage the whole day – that would have been asking too much – but a whole morning of drawing and meeting the people that I’ve got to know through posting online in this community of like-minded sketchers was enough to make me feel light-headed with the excitement of it all.

And that’s a problem in itself. I kept having to say to myself Whoa! Slow down, get quiet. Take a breath. Because the excitement that I want so much to give way to is also part of the way I get overloaded and exhausted, and I can’t afford to crash…….

I need to do days, or mornings like this more regularly. I really need the practice because not getting out and doing ordinary things like travelling on a train, or wandering around a bookshop or a gallery or having coffee and chatting with friends means that when I do get to do it, it feels weird and surreal. Meandering happily around Salts Mill and afterwards through the streets of Saltaire I felt a bit like an escapee; at times like this I’m suddenly surrounded by so much – so many sights and sounds and different possibilities that it’s quite hard to make simple decisions like what to look at next. Whether to stand still or carry on walking. Whether to turn this way or that. Having a sketchbook with me is what keeps me on some sort of track; I can stop at any moment and let my eyes do the thinking, and tell me why I’m there and what I need to do. Everything else just disappears.

I know I’m not alone in this experience – anyone who is a stay-at-home carer for example, who needs to be constantly in attendance on another; anyone with a long-term chronic illness or anyone who is elderly and no longer able to get out much will recognise what this feels like. I’m lucky; I have enough strength and the occasional opportunity to go out and explore and have micro-adventures. I just need to grab the chance whenever I can and do more, and celebrate and enjoy every minute of these expeditions into the wider world.

The Blessings Of A Building Site

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I do love a building site. Perhaps it’s that I enjoy watching people at work, and because it’s the next best thing to doing it myself. I like tools, and how they’re handled. I like watching how things unfold and change, and I really like mechanical diggers – especially the small ones that are quite nippy.

The restoration project in the grounds of Cliffe Castle is under way, and I’m up there whenever I can. It’s a blessing, because it’s so absorbing and interesting and it takes my mind off the horrible mess the country is in and is creating something good.

I’m going to try to post regular bulletins with drawings on my other site, here – because the story will run and run. It’s going to be a long process. And no doubt I’ll be writing about it here as well – because it’s such a blessing, and we could all do with such things. Here’s to all such projects, wherever and whatever – and may we continue to value our arts and our heritage enough to continue to find funding for them.

Fast Sketches on Slow Art Day

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Watercolour sketch of Liza Dracup's work 'greenfinch' - a collaged archival photographic print

Every year, one day in April, people all over the world take time to slow down and look at five works of art, slowly. Slow Art Day takes place in galleries and museums internationally; from New York to Shanghai, from London to Helsinki – and about 200 other places in between, scattered across the globe. One of these venues is Cliffe Castle in Keighley; last year was the first time they hosted Slow Art, and 5 people came – on Saturday the place was buzzing with almost 50 enthusiastic art-watchers – and quite a few sketchers.

My favourite of the five selected artworks was Liza Dracup’s ‘Greenfinch’, which fascinated everyone because no-one really understood the technique. (See the original online here.) I loved it so much I spent rather longer than the allocated 10 minutes, getting completely absorbed – and then had to rush round to try to give the other four selected pieces a fair deal before we all gathered to drink tea, eat cake, and discuss. This is the other enjoyable part of the day – listening to each other’s thoughts and feelings about the artworks, and learning some more about what we’ve all been slowly looking at.

I whizzed past the enormous and sumptuously gorgeous portrait of an Italian opera singer in stunning pink satin whose name I forget, because I’d indulged myself by looking at it for a long long time only the day before, and set myself stoically to sketching Queen Victoria by Lowes Cato Dickinson. The room where it’s hung is small and I couldn’t get a good view for the crowd, but even allowing for that my drawing was pathetic (perhaps through lack of enthusiasm) and things didn’t really perk up when I found the next piece, a fantastically detailed painting of an elaborate baroque interior with the diminutive figures of the Emperor Napoleon lll and Empress Eugenie, by Guiseppe Castilione.
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There was only one thing to do – concentrate on tiny Napoleon and his Empress, and in the process somewhat surprisingly I found myself getting drawn into the painting and lost in its own world. It’s strangely three dimensional and gives you the weird feeling that you could be looking through a window into a separate but solid reality. I could only photograph it from an angle, and it’s poorly lit, but drawing it made it far more interesting than I could have imagined.
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Only five minutes to go, and I scuttled back to the entrance hall and two gigantic 1890’s Chinese bottle vases, porcelain and enamel and a rather horrible mixture of sky blue with wishy-washy yellow and coral pink. Not really my cup of tea but again, once I started drawing, I started to get seduced by the shape and intrigued by the decoration. What are those squiggly things around the middle that look a bit like bats? I didn’t have time to sketch them recognisably, but it turns out that they may in fact be bats after all – red bats. A monk from the Buddhist centre is coming in on Tuesday to help with some interpretation…..
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Ten minutes spent looking at a work of art either seems like the blink of an eye or an eternity, depending on what you normally do in galleries. There are times when I flash past a painting or a piece of pottery without a second glance because I don’t much like the look of it. But there’s so much to see, when you stop and stand and stare. And some of it very surprising. It’s good to be challenged this way; I should do it more often.

Salmagundi: A Recipe For Laughter

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I like to cook, though my cooking is more about assembling, (except when I’m baking). Peeling, slicing; one of the things I love most about preparing lunch is chopping ginger (we eat a lot of ginger, finely sliced and then cut into the slenderest of matchsticks and sprinkled on almost everything – it’s delicious).

When my sister sent me a recipe for Salmagundi I thought that it was because it’s a promising sounding assortment of whatever you happen to have in the fridge and the larder – and that is, in fact, what it is – Wikipedia says:

Salmagundi (sometimes abbreviated as salmi) is a salad dish, originating in the early 17th century in England, comprising cooked meats, seafood, vegetables, fruit, leaves, nuts and flowers and dressed with oil, vinegar and spices.

But that’s not the real reason she sent me the link to this entry in Wikipedia. No. It’s because of the recipe lower down the page, for a pirate version of the dish (it was popular with pirates, apparently) but this isn’t a salad.

‘The following is taken from a reprint of Mrs. Hill’s New Cook Book, originally published in 1867 and republished by Applewood Books of Bedford, Massachusetts.’

‘Boil two calf’s feet; take the feet out when done; reduce the broth to a quart. The feet may be fried and used, first removing the bones. Let the broth become cold in an earthen vessel; scrape off all the grease; wipe the top of the jelly with a coarse towel; put the cake of jelly into a kettle lined with tin or porcelain; season it with two lemons cut up (removing the seed), fine blades of mace, a stick of cinnamon, pepper (white pepper is best), and salt to taste. Beat to a froth the whites of six eggs; stir these to the jelly just as it melts; it must then be left to clarify and not stirred again. When it simmers long enough to look clear at the sides, strain it through a flannel bag before the fire; do not squeeze the bag. Suspend it by running a stick through a loop made by tying the bag; rest each end of the stick upon a chair, and throw a table-cloth over all to keep out the dust. If the jelly does not run through clear the first time, pour it through the jelly-bag again. Set this aside. Prepare the meat and seasoning for the pie. Put into a stew-pan slices of pickled pork, using a piece of pork four inches square; if it is very salt lay it an hour in tepid water. Cut up two young, tender chickens—a terrapin, if it is convenient—two or three young squirrels, half a dozen birds or squabs. Stew them gently, cutting up and adding a few sprigs of parsley. Roll into half a pound of butter two tablespoonfuls of flour; add this to the stew until the meat is nearly done. Line a fire-proof dish, or two fire-proof dishes (this quantity of stew will fill two common-sized or quart dishes;) with good pastry; mix the different kinds of meats; put in Irish potato dumplings; season to taste; pour in the gravy and bake. When done, remove the upper crust when the pie is cold and pack in the jelly, heaping the jelly in the middle. Return the crust and serve cold or hot. The jelly will prevent them become too dry. They are good Christmas pies and will keep several days. Very little gravy should be used, and that rich. Should there be too much, leave the stew-pan open until reduced sufficiently. This kind of pie keeps well if made in deep plates, and by some is preferred to those baked in deep moulds.’

I think it was the bit about throwing the tablecloth over everything to keep off the dust that got me going – and the ‘terrapin, if convenient’ finished me off. I love the way it starts off sounding fairly straightforward and then goes off at all sorts of tangents and becomes baffling until you have no idea where all this is going to end and what it is you’re making – it’s exhausting even to contemplate.

I wonder what Heston Blumenthal would make of it? I think I’ll stick to the salad version, as I’ve got plenty of those sort of ingredients. Except for flowers. I don’t think daffodils will do……..

What are you eating this Easter?

Nosocomephobia

I have an on-going, occasional project where from time to time I explore drawing, and fear, and particularly the way drawing something that’s troubling or scary can affect the way I feel about it. This is part five; these are the previous posts – part one, part two, part three, part four.

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There’s a word for the fear of hospitals. I looked it up, since there’s a word for most fears – it’s
nosocomephobia, a word I don’t know how to pronounce, which is a good thing because since I can’t hear it in my head I can detach myself from it quite easily and reassure myself that my anxiety around hospitals is not really a phobia, just a learned response.

This shouldn’t surprise me as I’ve had a history of hospital experiences that started with an admission when I was was two and a half, and another when I was six, both of which I remember as difficult times despite kindly nurses and frequent family visits. They must have contributed to the sinking feeling I get when faced with a hospital appointment, and they’ve been reinforced over the years with a considerable number of nasty moments supporting my husband through emergencies, admissions and treatments.

So now, whatever I actually see or hear or experience makes no difference – the older memories are hard-wired in me.
Or so I thought.

Last weekend I was admitted as a day-patient for minor surgery to a hospital I hadn’t attended before (which was a bonus – no specific memories attached -) and all my preconceived anxieties were dissolved away, as one by one each thing on my list of nasty possibilities not only failed to happen but was replaced by something reassuring and wonderful. The sun shone all morning. I sat waiting in the sunlit ward after being seen by the warmly sympathetic consultant (whose attitude was so exceptional, as consultants go, that it made me feel dizzy), and as I lay on my back in the operating theatre gazing at the stainless steel ceiling and chatting to the sweetly smiling theatre nurses, I wondered if all this was simply a miracle, (which I’m quite prepared to believe) or if I had, just perhaps, assisted the miraculous by arriving that morning in a different state of mind……

Just two weeks earlier I’d been in a different hospital for a different reason and in a different state of mind, this time as driver-and-carer and not patient, and I was distinctly nervous and wobbly. All the buttons that get pushed when I’m in a hospital situation were fully activated, and needing some focus and a chance to re-balance I took refuge in the coffee shop, found a corner table and whipped out a sketchbook. I sat and sketched whoever I could watch without drawing attention, and without thinking – simply observing. Patients, relatives, friends and carers, and surgeons on their coffee break. People, doing ordinary things. It calmed me instantly, as I knew it would.

I didn’t think much about it at the time, but looking back I realise that drawing there that morning did more than just give me a reassuring focus; it gave me a different viewpoint – an imperceptible shift of angle so that I was soaking up the ordinariness of the place, the way this is a normal place of work that happens to be a busy city hospital. I watched two surgeons in blue surgical gowns queuing for their coffee orders and chatting as they waited, and saw them as people. As customers waiting in line, having to be patient and wait their turn, talking to each other. Only later did I get to wondering what they’d be doing to once their coffee break was over….

Once again, drawing comes to the rescue, educates me into seeing what’s really there instead of what my mind imagines. Like putting on a pair of reality spectacles, opening me to learn about what’s actually going on. Reminding me to expect – nothing; to be open to everything, as it happens – and just to be there.

Transition

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It’s almost exactly 4 years since I started writing these posts, and in that time of tramping about outside, watching the seasons and recording what I see and feel and think about, there has been change – a transition.

I remember saying that I try to look closely at something every day, and that although it would be better to draw it, it’s more likely that I’d take photographs. Well, somewhere along the way, drawing has moved back centre-stage; I’m now far more likely to whip out my sketchbook rather than my camera, and the difference (to me, anyway) has been remarkable, and in some ways quite unexpected.

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It’s not that I don’t still love taking photographs – I do – but sketching has unlocked something that has nothing to do with photography, or with words, and opened up a world of possibilities. Since I can scribble a very high speed sketch almost as quickly as I could get out my camera and shoot, I now know that I can respond to a place or a person or whatever catches my eye with my whole attention, and discover how I really see it and feel about it. It makes a connection that is hard to imagine happening any other way.
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I joined the worldwide community of Urban Sketchers about a year ago, and this really put wind in my sails; it’s wonderful to be able to share and enjoy looking at what other sketchers are doing all over the world, and I’ve been stretching and honing my rusty drawing skills and learning more every day. I’ve discovered the adventure of going out with a sketchbook is quite different from appearing in public with a camera; people are friendly and interested, they mostly smile and talk, and in some cases people have told me they are simply delighted to see someone drawing. (I have to say I don’t know why this is and I find it rather baffling, but I don’t question it!)

Change is a constant thing, and I realise that to be able to move willingly and happily from one thing to the next is to be happy. It’s a continual state of transition – something I’m beginning to understand, and something that, now and again, I’m beginning to be able to acheive…..

Ornate

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It was raining this afternoon and so I took refuge in the museum. I hadn’t been in there for months, but I’d been meaning to; I’ve been using my sketchbook as a way to record everyday things and I’d been idly musing about what everyday life meant for the Butterfield family who owned Cliffe Castle in, say, 1880.

The Butterfields, it would seem, were surrounded by a great deal of highly ornate clutter. There are some delightful things in these rooms, when taken individually – but overall this kind of ostentation is not my cup of tea. I have to concentrate on one thing at a time or else I have the urge to turn and run, so I let my eyes settle on the carved gilded mirror frame above the Carrara marble fireplace, and there I stayed, sketching, in the half hour that was left before closing time.
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A passing museum attendant new to the job (I overheard him tell a visitor he’d only been there for four days) came over to look at my drawing and said in astonishment ‘did you do that yourself?’ – at which we both laughed. I said ‘no, actually the artist just left the room’ and we laughed some more.
After all, it’s not a very good drawing. Henry Butterfield would not have been impressed.

Weekly Photo Challenge: ornate

Sketch-Fright, Cheap Sketchbooks And The Desire To Be Famous

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Drawing is a scary thing. I know writers think writing is scary and I agree it is, or can be, and sometimes I find it scary too – but a page of writing is hidden from view until it’s read, and then it reveals itself slowly word by word. Drawing is more like acting. The fear it engenders is more like stage-fright; a drawing is up there bold as brass, visible the first second you see it, and there’s no hiding. And make no mistake, the truthfulness of a drawing is there for all to see as well – you can’t fudge it or disguise it.

Sketching in public places is doubly scary, and drawing people even worse. It’s bad enough that every time I pick up a pen and a sketchbook I’m initially frozen by the fear that I’m not going to be able to draw anything meaningful – there’s also the worry that I’ll upset someone by drawing them and make them feel uncomfortable (although in fact this seems to happen very rarely). And then there’s the fact that sooner or later, someone’s going to come up and look at what I’m doing, and I’d better have something on my page that at least half way resembles who or what I’m drawing.
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I use cheap sketchbooks when I’m sketching people – any kind that has paper that’ll take pen and ink and a bit of wash, because better quality sketchbooks are too inhibiting and I simply dare not scribble and take risks and ruin good pages. I wish I were braver about this but I’m not.

Thankfully, once I’ve got going and immersed myself in looking, when my pen is moving about on the paper and I’m completely absorbed, nothing else seems to matter very much any more, so that when the inevitable happens and somebody does come over to look and to chat it’s not so alarming after all.

The other day I was drawing in the children’s playground as I often do, and a girl of about twelve came over and asked me what I was doing. She was there with her younger brother and they’d got tired of playing on the swings. “Are you an artist?” she wanted to know. (People ask this all the time and it’s not a straightforward question to answer, but I usually just say Yes.)

The conversation then went a bit like this:
Girl: Are you an artist?
Me: Yes
Girl: Are you drawing that man over there?
(shouting) Davy! She’s drawing you! She’s really good! Keep still!
Me: Shhh! You’ll disturb him and he’ll move about. (He didn’t; he kept completely still).
Girl: You’re really good. Are you famous?
Me: No! Heavens! Absolutely not!
Girl: So do you have your drawings in books and stuff?
Me: No, I just draw in sketchbooks, for myself. But I do sometimes put my drawings on the internet.
Girl: Can I have your autograph?
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I was a bit taken aback by this, and asked her if she meant it, did she really want my autograph, and she assured me she did, so I found a piece of paper and duly signed it and she solemnly told me I should also write artist after my name, which she found very satisfying. We chatted a bit more, she and her brother and Davy (not his real name) and afterwards I went off home musing about this desire to be famous, or to meet someone famous, that seemed so important and so desirable.

I was lucky, growing up. Very early on I had planted in me the enjoyment of doing, and I had plenty of opportunity to do the things I enjoyed. They say that those that really excel at something get good at it not because of being gifted, but because they do so much of it that the hours and hours and hours of practice make them excel. I haven’t done enough of any one thing in my life to be really good at it, but I know practice makes all the difference. I tried to explain this when we were chatting in the playground, and the girl and her brother became thoughtful for a while, as we all considered it and mulled it over.

I’ve thought about it quite a lot since. I wonder if they have too.

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