Monday, 3 December 2018

A Day-in-the-Life of a Construction-Site Manager

Remember back in the summer, I did a project with York University, looking at what architects do all day? Well, the researchers were so pleased with the results, they asked me to do another, similar project - they wanted to carry on to the next stage of the building process and look at what happens when the plans get to the building site.

We did it the wrong way round really: I was slightly dreading having to sketch outside in November weather. I took lots and lots of layers with me. As it turned out, we were very lucky. It did rain on us right at the start, but it was a very mild day for the time of year and not windy at all. Phew.

The site was a massive development in the centre of Rochdale. We had to start at the crack of dawn, because we needed to be on site for their start of day, which meant staying in a hotel in Rochdale the evening before and getting up and out so early that we missed the cooked breakfast! Damn. This research-sketching work is always so interesting though, I didn't really mind. 

Come 7am, I had already checked out of the hotel with the researcher, Chrissy, and we were trailing our wheelie-suitcases through the still dark streets of Rochdale in the rain, following Google Maps. The site soon loomed up - it was so big it engulfed most of the town centre. Luckily we were given a brew as soon as we got on-site, then we were kitted out in the obligatory big boots, reflective jackets and hardhats. Amazingly, they found some in my size. 

Basically, Chrissy and I shadowed Josh, the Site Manager, throughout his day, with Chrissy scribbling everything he said and did in her notebook, and me painting and drawing what I could capture. It was even more fast and furious than I'm used to. The indoor meetings were okay but, once we got outdoors, Josh was moving back and forth between different contractors on different parts of the site and hardly stood still for a moment, so the sketches got a bit rough and ready.

I loved trailing around behind Josh all day, finding out about the different elements of his work. It seemed pretty stressful stuff, with so much responsibility. He was basically keeping an overview and trouble-shooting, to make sure the right things were happening in the right way, and that all the different contractors could do what they needed, without being in each other's way.

And it was brilliant getting access to the site. Much of it was still big holes in mud, but there was one building starting to go up - just iron girders with basic stairs and floors in place. The dark section you can see in the photo below is the beginnings of banked seating for a cinema screen: 

We went up a few floors to talk to welders and scaffolders. Sparks occasionally fell like fireworks from the other side of the floor above and large areas were shrouded in a green netting, which Josh told us was because they were spraying the girders with fire-resistant paint and they didn't want the paint drifting out over the people and cars below. 

The construction team were really easy-going about being drawn. The men outside, in particular, were far too busy to be bothered, although one man kept asking me if I would do a drawing for his girlfriend!

We went in and out, moving backwards and forwards between meetings with managers of one sort or other in the nice warm site office and the much briefer catch-ups with different men on site, sorting out issues. 

It was handy for my purposes that Josh was reasonably distinctive-looking with a beard and slightly prominent ears, so he was easy to pick out in the sketches. Useful too, that he was fairly young and attractive, so I didn't have to worry about not making him look fat, balding or ugly! It can be a slight issue if you are drawing the same person over and over. 

Some of the text quotes were recorded as I went along, particularly the indoor meetings but, on the whole when we were outdoors, it was so challenging that I was struggling to capture just the visual elements, so there was no way I could get text too. That's why there's been a gap of a month between me doing the sketches and finishing the work - I had to wait until Chrissy had extracted some suitable quotes from her mountains of notes, before I could add them in (an unenviable task). This was the system we often used in Australia and we had the same problems with it drawing things out somewhat, but sometimes it is the only way.

Because it had been such an early start, and because I still had a long journey to get back home to Sheffield, we cheated slightly and didn't stay until the end of the day. By half way through the afternoon, we had more than enough material.

Back in York, Chrissy and her team selected eleven of the A4 sketches from eighteen I had created. When they had given me the bits of added text they wanted to include, I scanned everything and laid things out in the same rainbow pencil boxes I'd used for the architect project.

This day was all part of a much larger body of research, Buildings in the Making, about how you create buildings which are truly fit for purpose, how healthy they are for us and how buildings we work and live in make us feel. The researchers are mostly interested in the issues around architecture for hospitals and care homes. This work is linked to the residency I'm currently doing on Cystic Fybrosis clinics in hospitals - it's the same research team.

The university will use my sketchwork as a way to interest different parties who are not going to engage with turgid academic papers. Sketches are a very effective way of getting people's attention and are a great conversation starter, with the ability to communicate ideas swiftly in a way that anyone can grasp. 

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Mounting Work for my Exhibition

I'm spending this week getting ready for my exhibition. It's less than 2 weeks away! I have been working hard and so have a plan's chest drawer full of textile pieces which need mounting up:

Because the raw, uneven edges of the fabric, and the slight unsquareness, are an important part of the work, I surface-mount each piece onto a stretcher, which I create myself, with John's help. The first time I showed my textiles work, as part of my Orchard Square residency, I bought a big roll of lovely raw cotton from Whaley's, to make the canvas stretchers. Luckily, it seems I have just enough left to do what I need.

That first time, John made all the stretchers for me from scratch, which took ages, but we have now discovered a company where we can buy individual, ready-cut, wooden pieces at different lengths, so it's a much quicker business to put them together. Here's the first one, hot off the press, so to speak:

We have to hand-stretch each one, which is a bit of a tedious business. Pulling the cotton tight to keep up the tension, ready for stapling, makes your fingers hurt, but we'll get it done. 

After that, I use Bondaweb to attach the work to the stretcher fronts (plus a little stitching here and there for the larger work, just to be on the safe side). They look so lovely once they're done. Here's the latest piece I finished early last week, now all mounted up and looking posh and ready for the exhibition:

The show, called Unbound, opens at the Gage Gallery, at KIAC in Kelham Island (Sheffield S3 8DB) on Dec 7th. I am sharing the space with 3 other women artists. Here's a short bit about each of us:

Lynne Chapman

Lynne hand-stitches into fine layers of textile, building up areas of intense colour and texture. Her most recent work is inspired by petroglyphs: the frayed, ambiguous glimpses of ancient stories, the idea that we leave behind an echo, consciously or unconsciously.

Helen Purdie
Helen’s precise and colourful studio paintings and her gestural plein air works are influenced directly by the world around her. As a recently, late-confirmed autistic woman, Helen will also be exhibiting a new autobiographical piece exploring the challenges and beauty of her day-to-day human interactions.

Katie Jamieson
Katie chooses to use materials that have the qualities of softness and absorbency. She is constantly responding to the organic nature of the work. It reflects the balance between creation and destruction; building layers up and knocking them back down again until the whole piece emerges.

Lisa Wallbank
Lisa's whimsical approach to assemblage presents curiosities, fragments and debris from the toybox, in amusing and puzzling combinations. Each artwork invites the viewer to construct a story, but obvious narratives are confounded by details that just won't fit. Or will they?

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Exhibition of my Australia Sketchbooks

Although I finished my Australian residency back in May this year, we didn't have a proper exhibition of the work at the time, just in informal event with wine and nibbles, in the research centre itself:

Six months later, the sketchbooks have at last all been exhibited in Perth in what looks to be a far posher venue! This delay was because something rather dramatic happened during my residency... 

When I was commissioned to do the work, the Centre for Transformative Work Design was part of the University of Western Australia but, by the time I arrived in Perth to begin my work, Professor Parker had already decided that she wanted to move her research centre from UWA to Curtin University, the rival Perth university. The whole time I was working there, secret negotiations were going on behind the scenes. It was all a bit cloak and dagger!

The deal came to fruition around the time I came back to England. UWA were not best pleased to lose the centre and so we put things on ice until the researchers had settled in at Curtin. 

I got an email last week, showing me some fabulous photos from what seemed to be a very successful event. Prof Parker did a talk about the residency, using my very first batch of sketches, from the tip attendant in Peaceful Bay's rubbish dump, as an illustration of how useful the visual record is to her research.

They had all the project's research-sketching competition entries on-screen too, as well as photos from 'behind the scenes' - me in action in various places, I assume, like these photos of me sketching at a massive opencast mine site, in Wyalla:

For the exhibition, they had some of my work printed onto canvas and they displayed those pieces on easels, which was an interesting way to create visual contrast in the space:

It's such a shame that I couldn't be there in person, but so lovely to see the photos and hear about how the event. You can see more photos here.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Making More Concertina Sketchbooks

This morning, I am making lots of mini-concertinas of watercolour paper, because my next residency, with York University, starts first thing Monday morning! This time I am part of a project which is researching the strategies hospitals use to try and combat cross-infection between sufferers of Cystic Fibrosis. 

We have had a couple of meetings, so I know a little more about it than I did, but I will learn plenty more as we go along. Basically, there are a few specific infections which the rest of us shake off, which people with CF can never get rid of, and which will ultimately kill them. If one CF sufferer already has something nasty, hospitals have to make sure that it's not passed on to other sufferers when they come into the hospital for their appointments.

The project is going to talk to individual patients at hospitals in Leeds, Liverpool and York, while I sketch, to discover how they feel the 'segregation' strategies work for them and what the environment feels like from their perspective.

Anyway, if you are also a sketcher, I thought you might like to have a go at making some easy mini-concertinas at home. This time I am making them from standard sheets (76cm x 55cm) rather than from a roll, which is much more straight forward. 

You start by scoring, ready for the folds. Working down the longer side of the paper, measure and lightly mark at 30.5cm and again at 61cm. Do this top and bottom, then score down right across the sheet at the two sets of marks. I have a special scoring tool, which is very handy, but a dead biro will work just as well.

Next measure along the shorter sides: mark at 22cm and again at 44cm. Now you cut along the length of the sheet at those marks, so you have 3 strips: 

Two of them will fold up to something that is close to an A5 sketchbook. The thinner strip is 'waste' as far as my residency project goes, but makes and excellent little landscape concertina book.

Now the folding. You have only scored every other fold, because they go in different directions (which would have meant scoring on different sides of the paper). So, taking your first strip, fold at the two score lines:

You create the additional folds without scoring. Gently bend the paper, to line up the two existing folds. 

When the edges are lined up, use your palm to press the fold in place, then run your finger down to firm it up. Do this again for the final fold and you have your finished concertina, with 5 facets on each side:

I have already made a cover which fits this size concertina - it was the one I made for my Australian residency, with the Centre for Transformative Work Design in Perth. I created detailed instruction for how to make the covers, when I did my initial residency with the Morgan Centre. Take a look here at how to do it. It's not difficult and, once you have it, you can use it over and over again, as long as you cut the concertinas to the same size.

Right, I'm more or less set for my residency now. Later this afternoon, I take a train to Liverpool, where I am staying overnight in a hotel, ready for an early start at the Heart and Chest Hospital in the morning. I will be sketching two different patients in the morning, then spending the afternoon sketching around areas of the hospital which have come up in the interviews. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

I'm Having an Exhibition of my Textiles!

Hi all. Sorry for the absence. I have been trying to concentrate on my work, specifically, I've been getting stuck into my hand-stitched textiles. I am building up a new body of work, getting ready for my exhibition in a month's time, at KIAC, here in Sheffield.

My work has been evolving since I got back from Australia. The trip was a long time to break off from what I was doing; after four months I felt I'd lost my momentum. But it's turned out well in the end, as it made me pause, assess the work so far, and think about what I was interested in. As a result, a lot of the newest pieces are a reflection of my fascination with passing time. This has been a preoccupation for a while, but in the past it has been more a part of my reportage sketch-work.

During my trip with John to Scotland, I saw some ancient carvings, in Elgin. That got me researching images of very old mark-making and I found myself getting excited by petroglyphs - the scratchings and paintings left by ancient peoples on rocks and in caves. 

My new work tries to evoke the sense of different people's inhabiting a space, like a cave, through time: the marks they leave; those which almost disappear and those which don't. I like the idea of layers of time embedded in the rock, like my layers of organza in the work.

The show is in a huge industrial space, the Gage Gallery, which has its own feel of layers of habitation. I am sharing the space with three other women artists from Sheffield. We all work in very different ways, using different materials, so I am really excited to see how it all sits together.

If you are based in our part of the world and want to come along, the opening evening is on Friday December 7th, from 5.00 until 10.00. There is also a 2nd late night though, the following evening. The work is only up until Tuesday 11th December, so mark it in your diary now, so you don't miss me. If you are a Facebook person, here's the Event listing.

Hope you can make it!

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Artists & Illustrators Mag: Sketching People at Work

John and I have just come back from a lovely road-trip in the Scottish highlands, to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. There was a huge pile of junk mail on the mat to welcome us home, but one biggish envelope amongst all the pizza-delivery flyers and credit-card sales pitches turned out to be far more welcome. 

Back in June, I was commissioned to write a 900-word article for Artists & Illustrators magazine. I do enjoy writing so, of course, I said YES. Two or three years back, someone from the magazine came to the studio - it was just after my Craftsy Class went live - and did a rather lovely interview about my children's illustration. Thing was, I was all excited about urban sketching at the time, which I naturally told them all about, so last year, they got in touch again, to ask me to write them a piece about that. 

Which is how come they were emailing yet again, earlier in the summer. They had come across my How to Sketch People blog post, so they were after something along those lines. But I had literally only just got back from my sketching residency in Australia, so I really wanted to write about that. Since I was mainly sketching people while I was in Australia anyway, it all fitted rather well. 

So, back to that envelope...

There's such a long gap between doing work and it coming out, it always comes as a lovely surprise when you finally get the finished article arrive in the post, all published and shiny. I was delighted with the fact that the article is spread across 3 pages and that they have used so many illustrations (though I suspect they may have had to cut some of the words to fit them all on). 

I can't recommend the magazine highly enough by the way - it has some really interesting features (and I'm not just saying that because I'm in it!)

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

I'm Auctioning another Tree Painting

I wanted to let you know that I am auctioning off another of my tree paintings. This time it is a watercolour I painted on Briar Road in Sheffield, created on heavy quality, watercolour paper, measuring 28 x 37cm. The last one sold for £200 in the end, which was wonderful.

If you would like to own this painting, you can bid on the auction website or, if you are not on Facebook, you can email me your bid. There are lots of other lovely things for sale on the STAG auction site, so it's well worth a bit of a look.

All proceeds go to the legal fund to support the Sheffield Tree Action Group's protests against the council's intention of chopping down yet more healthy, mature trees in Sheffield. It's been a long, hard struggle and thousands of trees across the city have been destroyed, but we have had some success recently and the council have been forced to meet with protesters to discuss ways of managing the situation.

So, whether you are interested in helping to save Sheffield's dwindling numbers of mature street trees, or just like the idea of a lovely tree painting on your wall, get your bid in now! You just leave the bid as a comment on the post. Easy peasy.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Instagram Take-Over Day

Next Wednesday, I am going to be taking over the Instagram page of Hobbycraft. I was invited to do it via someone at Derwent Pencils, who sometimes sponsor me by sending me lovely parcels of free art materials. 

I was a bit confused about what it was all about at first, but it turns out that what they want me to do is to select some of my drawings, which will then be posted to the Hobbycraft Instagram page over the course of the day. I will also be around to answer any questions posted.

I made a little film in the studio too, to introduce myself, give a quick tour round my workspace, and show some examples of what I do. Here's a sneak preview:

If anyone doesn't already follow me on Instagram, you might want to know that my personal account is here. I regularly post drawings, paintings, photographs (usually of lovely, grungy, rusty textures) and my textiles pieces too. Take a look.

Anyway, maybe I'll 'see' some of you on Wednesday. Hope you enjoy the film.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Illustrations of 'A-Day-in-the-Life'

In my last post, I told you about the day of sketching I did in the offices of a team of architects. If you remember, it was slightly different to my usual work: this time, the client wanted the sketches as part of an illustration for a report. 

The original brief was to create a double-page spread of images, which communicated what an architect did all day. I did as many sketches as I could on my day out, with the idea that we could choose the best, say 5 or 6 images, which I would montage together later, using Photoshop, to create the final illustration.

But when the researchers saw the 13 sketches, they didn't want to use less than half of them. It seemed a waste. What to do? They went back and looked at their costings. They had the idea of an illustrated pull-out, which would give me six A4 pages to fill with illustrations, instead of just two. They spoke to their printer and asked for a quote. I waited with baited breath...

… and a couple of days later, I got the go-ahead! 

The researchers sent me a list of additional text and quotes that they wanted me to add to the images, taken from the research notes that were made on the day. I had to write each quote out by hand, so it would match the text I'd drawn originally, and then scan it all in. I used speech bubbles for a lot of the new text, to add visual variety and stop things getting fussy.

I spent all of Monday at my computer, laying the images out. In the end, we only had to lose one sketch, because 12 worked out so well: two images per page. 

With all that extra text, I decided the individual sketches needed boxes around them, so the pages looked less bitty. But I didn't want formal, computer-drawn boxes - they needed to be sketchy. I drew half a dozen with my rainbow pencil and scanned them in too. 

Here are the finished 6 illustrations, in order, through the architect's day. I think the effect with the boxes works rather well in the end. I am relieved that they are being used larger too, as I was concerned that the text might be a little hard to read, if I had to squeeze lots of images into a much smaller space. 

I have sent everything off to York University. I can't wait to see how it looks as a pull-out.

Monday, 6 August 2018

A Day in the Life of an Architect

So what do architects do all day? To be honest, I wasn't really sure.

I know they design buildings and spaces, probably more on a computer than at a drawing board these days, but that's where my knowledge stops. Or stopped. Last week, as it happens, I got the opportunity to find out, first hand, and I took along my sketchbook, naturally.

I had been commissioned to create an illustration for a final project report, by researchers at York University. The project analyses and discusses how care homes are designed and built, and why. The researcher who contacted me said she would like an image which gave some insight into what an architect did during a typical day. 

I wasn't that happy about doing it though, because I didn't want to draw it from imagination, since I had no clear idea what they do, or what their environment might look like. I said the drawings would have much more of an authentic and natural feel if I was able to see and draw an architect actually at work. So the researcher paid me to spent a day at an architect's practice near Selby. Perfect.

They were tucked away in the grounds of a stately home turned hotel, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It was quite a journey to get there. I arrived just as people were preparing for a big meeting. My job was to shadow one particular architect, April, and sketch her activities through the day.

The meeting was really interesting, with about a dozen people around a big table, discussing a project which was obviously in the early stages of development. 

It was very animated, with lots of back and forth, pointing at drawings and making changes to plans because of various problems. It was much more tricky to capture than all those meetings at the Morgan Centre, where people mostly sat and listened, but I did my best. 

After lunch, April went back to her desk to work on a drawing for a different project. She showed me a print-out of a long building which the client wanted to appear like a terrace of buildings. 

Her designing was indeed mostly done on the computer, but she did also do some hand-drawing, working things out. She felt that the shapes of the ends of the building needed altering, to make the overall effect more attractive, but this had knock-on effects to the footprint of the rooms and the roof-line. So she sat and sketched for a few minutes:

One of the surprises for me, was how much collaboration went on. The office was a large, open-plan space. But although individuals had their own, quite spacious work areas, people often got up and went to chat things through with each other.

So it was a far more sociable job than I might have anticipated. It seemed like fairly high pressure though. 

I was pleased that I managed to capture quite a few different elements of the work. What I have to do next is find a way of putting together a selection of the sketches, to create a montage. 

The final illustration is to be a double spread, so two A4 sheets. The York researchers are going to have a meeting tomorrow, to chose their favourite images from everything I created and to let me know if there is any additional text they want to incorporate, then I have another day to fiddle around in Photoshop and bring things together. What an interesting project it has turned into.

You can see many more similar reportage projects on my website here. If you want to discuss a future project, contact me here.