Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Knickers and Cakes

Last Saturday was SketchCrawl Day and we went on a day-trip to Huddersfield: yeh! Only problem: I don't know Huddersfield, so Sam, one of the other members of Urban Sketchers Yorkshire, scouted out some venues and organised the day for me. Even better!

We started of in St Peter's Church, where they were having a Christmas fayre. This was perfect: lots of stalls and colourful goings on to sketch. There were 27 of us, so we might have been in the way, except the vicar let us up into the gallery, which gave brilliant views down over everything. It was a tad daunting though, because it was extremely visually busy. I started with the cake stall. The smells wafting from it as we entered the church were GORGEOUS, but I was very good and resisted. Trouble was, lots of punters didn't resist, so the cakes were disappearing as fast as I could paint them!

My concertina was great, as I could just follow things along. I was very keen to get the TOMBOLA sign. It was a really cold day, so everyone coming in was bundled up in big coats and warm hats. Despite this, while I was in the warm drawing this soft-toy stall, one or two brave members stayed outside, to paint the church's exterior. Brrrrrrrr....

Sam booked us an area in a local café / bar for lunch, which was lovely, as everyone got to know each other, showing their sketchbooks to their neighbour. Then we were off again, this time to the covered market. It was not an attractive building, so I concentrated on stallholders. I was first drawn to this stall of big, sensible knickers:

Opposite was a kiosk where a woman was doing alterations to clothes. I loved the sewing machines, with the big cotton reels and there was a handy counter to rest on. I asked if she minded me painting her while she sewed. We had a lovely chat, working away together. It turned out she had an Art & Design background and she was really interested in joining our group.

There was a little girl hanging around: the daughter of the woman who ran the nearby nail bar and I got chatting to her too. She was 8 years old and her face was just level with my sketchbook. She watched eagerly as the painting progressed. She was asking lots of questions about my art materials, so I demonstrated how the Inktense pencils worked, explained my waterbrush and travel paintbrush, then gave her a Magic Pencil to experiment with on the back of my spare sketchbook. She was so good, I let her colour in with my Inktense. It was another of those really lovely moments, both of us drawing away side by side, chatting with Megan the seamstress.

At 3.30, all the group returned to the café for our sharing session and a cuppa. We pushed lots of tables together, as there were so many of us. There was some really fantastic work. A couple of the new members were exceptional too. Really inspiring! Unfortunately, by the time we remembered to take this photo, half the group had left. Still a good pic though:

Then it was time for me to dash off for my train home at 5.00. It's a very, very slow train to Sheffield from Huddersfield: as noisy as a cattle truck and it stops everywhere. We didn't mind though - the small group of us going back together chatted away all the way home.

What a lovely day out.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Dementia and Creativity: Sketching Workshops

This week I got some great news! I am going to be doing more research sketching with one of the Morgan Centre team at the University of Manchester.

Do you remember that I did some work with Dr Andrew Balmer on dementia research (that's him above, with the beard), as part of my residency? Well, though that was only one day of the whole 10 month residency, he was so pleased with how it went, that he included me in a bid for some new funding. He wants to explore further the idea of dementia and creativity, running six workshops next year, which I will be sketching.

We are then going to produce a digital art book to showcase the workshops and sketches. I don't know yet exactly what I'll be recording, but I am assuming it will be similar to the activities we did previously. These are the sketches I did on the day we spent together with Alzheimer's carers.

This is just one of various spin-off work offers as a result of my Morgan Centre residency. Some are with the researchers there, but I've also had interest from other institutions. 

It's been a week of ups and downs as this Friday I also heard the disappointing news that York University didn't get the funding for a year-long residency they were keen to do with me, looking at the architecture of care homes. Hey-ho: all the things in the pipeline rely on bids for funding, so ultimately none of the rest may come off. I'm still really excited to discover that there are more research sketching-projects to be had though. It's such interesting work and, of course, I get paid for sketching!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The Day I Dropped my Sketchbook (and Other Things) into the Sea!

On Friday night, John and I got back from a lovely week away at Robin Hood's Bay, where we rented a house with a group of friends, celebrating John's big, scary birthday. It was great fun, but our friends all went home after a few days and we spent the last half of the week on our own. So, when the sun showed up, I wrapped up warm and went down onto the beach to do a bit of painting.

I especially get excited by the shadow shapes created on the cliffs along the East Coast, because of the extreme erosion. It makes for an interestingly ragged skyline too, where the top and edges sink and crumble. Despite a completely dry forecast, as I came to the end of my painting, it started to spit and a big cloud appeared, so we retreated back to civilisation for a warming pot of tea and a sandwich.

After lunch, things brightened up again, though I had to battle increasingly strong winds trying to snatch the sketchbook from my hand. The disaster struck when I was half way through a painting at the very end of one of my concertinas (I was trying to fill up the final book I did in China). While I was waiting for the paint to dry, I thought I'd start another sketch, so I carefully wedged the drying book between my rucksack and the boulder I was sitting on and got out a new sketchbook.

I had just made the first paint mark, when there was a particularly violent gust of wind. I just managed to keep hold of the book in my hand, but the wedged book wasn't so lucky. The leverage of the wind against the book toppled the rucksack forward. Both book and rucksack landed in the deep rock pool.

Panic. The trouble was, my hands were full and anything I put down would be flung down the beach in the crazy wind. I sacrificed the rucksack to the water and just managed to grab one end of the sketchbook as it went in, whisking it out really fast. I was left trying to juggle the crazy-flapping, dripping concertina, a loaded paintbrush and paint-filled pallet, as well as the other sketchbook. The wet sketchbook was trying to rip itself in half. Paint, sea and sand went everywhere.

I yelled 'HELP! HELP!!!' 

Luckily John was not far away and leapt to the rescue. He pulled out the rucksack and took the wet sketchbook off me. Miraculously, the bulk of the work was unharmed: amazing given it was all watercolour or watercolour pencil sketches. Some of the paint on the final sketch had still been wet when it was dunked though, so that image got partially washed away, as you can see above. 

I was never able to finish it off because of what happened next...  

While John chivalrously stood with the length of unfolded, wet sketchbook flapping dry in the wind, I finished off the other painting I'd started. You can see the moment of drama recorded in the sharp ochre line which runs up into the sky on the far right in the final sketch above.

We were just breathing a sigh of relief. Things were more or less dry (apart from the rucksack, which I realised contained my phone: also a lucky escape). I'd finished off my painting and we had not quite frozen solid yet. Then I looked round. The sea had come in behind me. The very second I realised, it swirled around the boulder I was sitting on and covered my boots!

The panic, the scrambling with paint, sea and sand, trying to lift all our bits out of the advancing water with our hands already full of sketchbooks, was an almost exact replica of the first time, except there were two of us yelling this time. We avoided a repeat of the sketchbook dunking, but it was a close thing. 

Back on terra-firma, I had to wash sand out of my palette and paint off my face. I was crunching sand between my teeth for the next hour (from putting the brush into my mouth that I'd previously poked into the sand. Duh). We retreated to the house to warm up and dried out the rucksack and it's contents with no harm done. Phew.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

New Sketchbook Project: Sketchers Sans Frontieres

What do you think of my posh new concertina sketchbook?

I made it using the same system as the one I showed you before (in fact I used my own blog post to remind me how to do it!). That green one was a real work-horse: I used it for the entire year of my residency, I just kept refilling it with new paper. It has lasted really well. It's a bit dog-eared but has plenty of life in it still. This new one is for a different project. Something new!

At the Urban Sketchers Symposium in July, I chanced upon a small group of people who were very excited. They had been taking part in a 'sketchbook exchange' project all year, Sketchers Sans Frontieres and, because they were based all over the globe, this was the first time they had come together to look at the completed work.

I got excited too, because they said they were going to repeat the project with some new participants and I could join in.

The idea is that each person buys or makes a sketchbook, chooses a theme for it and does a sketch at the beginning of the book. They then post it off to the next person in the chain, for them to contribute, and so on. This time round, we are 9 artists, based in England, Canada, Germany, Brazil, USA, Luxembourg and Portugal. I will always post my books to Miriam in Germany and will always receive books from Emma in Canada, but the books will gradually fill with the work of all 9 artists. As the project progresses, the books I receive will be more and more complete, bursting with gorgeous work from the rest of the team.

I chose purple for the endpapers, as I thought that went well with the pink and the charcoal spine. I cut it from some thick paper I happened to have in a drawer:

I got the funky pink and white fabric from a furnishing fabric sample pack, given to me recently, to use for my sewing experiments. I'm still doing the sewing by the way. I'll show you my new piece of work soon, promise. It's quite adventurous, so is taking a while. Plus I don't get as much time as I'd like to get on with it.

I have chosen my sketchbook's theme, but it is a secret: nobody is allowed to know in advance, to increase the anticipation and fun of receiving each book. I know at least one other person is making a concertina, other than that, it is all a mystery and everything will be a surprise!

Before posting my new book off to Germany tomorrow morning, I had to do a first sketch. I did one when I was on holiday last week, in Robin Hoods Bay, but I am not allowed to show you!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Telling the Stories behind Everyday Objects

I bet you are surrounded at home by objects which have stories attached to them. Sometimes the objects in our life are mementos of important occasions or turning points, but mostly they are the custodians of more simple memories or just items we use for all manner of everyday uses. They still have stories though: where you got them, whether they are good or bad at their job, whether they fit neatly into your life or hang around, without a real home.

Last Wednesday, I ran a day of workshops, exploring our relationships with objects and looking at ways to bring out their stories and record them through sketching. I was working with the researchers at The Morgan Centre again, but also in cahoots with the Manchester Museum at the University of Manchester. We were focusing our attention particularly on objects which resonated with two different kinds of stories...

The morning workshop was about being thrifty. The researcher Helen Holmes brought in various examples of objects which demonstrated ways in which she was thrifty. The museum also found items in their collection, like lots of beautiful, re-purposed tins and packets from the fifties and sixties, used to store various seeds and slides from their plant collection. One historical object I particularly liked was a massive wooden mallet from ancient Egypt, used for reworking stone statues, presumably when one pharaoh was replaced by another!

Participants brought in their own objects from home, so they knew their significance. This object below was absolutely perfect for the theme of thrift: it's a device for making use of all the oddments of soap, crushing them together to make a fresh bar.

In the afternoon, we looked at objects which give us a sense of belonging. The researcher Vanessa May talked about how personal this was to her, because she was half Finnish and took a long while to feel that she truly belonged in the UK. One of the objects she bought along was a train ticket. She explained how she had  for a long time found it so complicated, working out how to buy the right ticket in England, that the act of cracking it told her she now belonged.

I took along my Urban Sketchers badges from the various symposium's I have attended, because the fraternity of sketchers is like a big international family.

My job was to teach people how to sketch all this and to explain how the act of sketching is about really looking and how that focus builds a relationship with your subject.

Some of the participants already had sketching experience, but many did not. To get people relaxed and ready to explore their objects, I showed them techniques for creating confident drawing lines and introduced them to the Magic, multicolour pencil. Then I showed them how to use torn collage to create impact behind a line drawing. 

We then talked a bit about some of the stories that tied people to their objects and how to condense that story down to a sentence or two, which you can then add to your sketch. I used some of my residency sketchbooks to show people different styles you can employ when drawing your wording and various ways you can use the text to make interesting things happen with your composition, to 'design' your page.

Many of the objects had really lovely stories. What was particularly interesting was that several people found that the act of drawing their object focused their mind differently. Particularly when we were talking about the sense of belonging, doing the sketch gave them time to think further and sometimes changed the way they felt about the object.