Saturday, 21 January 2017

Salt's Mill in Saltaire: SketchCrawl Day

This time last week, I organised another SketchCrawl day out for Urban Sketchers Yorkshire. It's always really tricky at this time of year, as we need to be somewhere that allows us to be inside, out of the cold. You can imagine that over the years, we have been to most of the large museums and indoor venues for many miles around, often several times. But we missed one...

For some reason, I have never before organised a trip to Salt's Mill. For those who have never been, it's a gorgeous old mill building on 3 floors, beautiful restored and turned into a museum / art gallery / café / bookshop / high-end shopping venue. The gallery mostly features the work of my all-time favourite artist, David Hockney. At the moment, as well as plenty of other examples of his work through the years, they have devoted the main gallery space to his 2011 iPad landscape painting series, created in North Yorkshire. They work so well blown up huge. I remember being amazed at that when I first saw them at the Royal Academy show.

Because there was so much to see at Salt's Mill, I didn't sketch as much as usual. I spent the morning painting this view from the stairwell window. It gave a fabulous, elevated vantage-point, but I got absolutely frozen, as the stairwell was unheated. Worth it though.

There was an extraordinary turn-out for the event: the best ever. The biggest previous group was the 40 people we had for the day in York Minster, but on Saturday, we had 45 - 50 people! It was hard to tell precisely, as not everyone was there at the start, and a few left early. It made lunch quite interesting to organise. I booked several tables in the mill's Diner.

It was a really sociable lunch and the staff coped surprisingly well. While I was waiting for my soup, I did a quickie contour sketch across the table.

After lunch I decided to sit in comfort. The ground floor was a delight. Not only was it toasty warm, and crammed with interesting things including more Hockney work, making it a feast for the eyes, but vases of fresh lilies meant that it smelled lovely. And on top of all that, they played beautiful classical music the whole time. I settled on sketching this wonderful old stopcock / valve thingy.

At the end of the afternoon, as usual, we all got together to share what we had been up to. There were so many of us, we took over the café. Again, staff were brilliant, really accommodating, pushing lots of tables together and patiently serving teas while we oooed and aaahhed about the work.

Because we were so many, it took ages for the books to go all the way round the table and I very nearly missed my train home. Luckily, one of my travelling companions was more on the ball than me!

Another thoroughly enjoyable day out. And so good to see, once again, lots of newcomers taking part alongside us old hands.  

Monday, 16 January 2017

Urban Sketching Workshops This Summer

I'm going to be teaching urban sketching workshops this summer. Interested in coming along?

It's because this year is the 10th anniversary of Urban Sketchers and, to celebrate, they have devised a fabulous, worldwide sketching-workshop project! The idea is to bring to people's home cities the kind of events I always have such fun with at the annual symposium. So, if you fancy having a go at an urban sketching workshop, now's your chance!

It's a great idea, as of course most people can't afford to flit half way round the world to attend the symposiums. That's why I always try and teach - it means I get my expenses paid (sneaky huh?). Teaching at symposiums has sent me to some wonderful places, like Brazil, Dominican Republic, Barcelona...

This new project makes use of all the Urban Sketchers correspondents, like myself, who are dotted around the globe. We were all asked if we would like to get involved. The result is that there will be 26 sets of workshops, in cities in North and South America, Africa, Asia, right across Europe and in Australia! Plus of course, right here in jolly old England.

To fit with the 10th anniversary theme, each project will involve 10 half-day workshops. Here in the UK, we are splitting ours between Sheffield and Manchester, where there are two very strong urban sketching groups. But you don't have to be part of an urban sketching group to take part - it's open to anyone!

I will be teaching 4 of the 10 workshops. Simone Ridyard, who runs Manchester Urban Sketchers, will be sharing the Manchester-based ones with Len Grant. You get discounts for signing up for batches of workshops, but you can just pick out one or two, if your budget is tight. It's very flexible. All the details, plus more information about we three instructors, is here.

I will be concentrating on different things in each of my four workshops:

Stop, Look, Listen: how do we choose what to capture from the information overload?
Let it Flow: interlocking our observations to capture the flow of time cross a concertina book.
Taming the Beast: less literal architectural sketching, capturing the spirit of a building.
People at Play: simple and quick techniques for making our people ‘live’ in their landscape.

Hope to see some of you there!

Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Finished Article: My New Textile Piece

Good news: my navy thread arrived  last week and I was able to go back and finish off my last textile piece. It was really frustrating to get so very close and have to stop! Here it is: 

If you have been following the progress of this piece, you'll know that it is based on a church in York and that I was working on the text which surrounds the church, when my thread ran out. The text is embroidered through rough-cut pieces of organza, which help the spindly words to better 'occupy' the space. It is a section from a quote by the American poet Charles Bukowski.

I enjoy the juxtaposition of text and image. It not only offers two very different visual rhythms, but helps to get across what is going on in my mind. With my first textile piece, the text was part of the source sketch and was about the absorption of the moment. There was no text on my original drawing of the church, but I wanted the final piece to be more than just a decorative image, so this quote represents my reflections on the subject matter.

I am really pleased with the finished product, particularly given the extremely limited amount of planning involved. This piece builds on my first 'commuter' piece of course, but many of the techniques on this 2nd piece were new and totally experimental, so I am very pleasantly surprised it has worked as well as it has.

I am already well into a third piece, which is different again. I'll show you that next time.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Exploring Textures and Utilising Thread-Ends

Over the holidays, I have been working steadily on my textile piece (in between hanging with friends and family of course). I have continued to experiment and explore various new techniques. I am not planning anything, I am just working it out as I go along, which is keeping the process fresh and fun. Every now and then something doesn't quite work and I have a bit of unpicking to do, but it's a great way to learn.

I spent time on the foreground over Christmas, incorporating the iron railings and gateposts. These are elements which weren't on the original sketch, but I felt that the church needed something at the front to 'pin' it to the background. I found the railings when I looked up photographs of the original church (fortunately, I wrote it's name on the sketch).

I developed the area around the front steps further as well, flowing the church into the foreground.

I have also been experimenting further with the trees. I really love the texture of the plastic weave I sewed in earlier, but with such a rich tonal range developing everywhere else, the trees looked flat. I tried using layers of organza, tacked with little crosses in different colours, but it wasn't enough. That's when I got out my little bags of thread-ends.

I have been keeping the waste as I finish each thread. I didn't know what for, I just thought they might make for an interesting texture at some point. I spread them onto the most shadowed area of the trees and pinned them in place under a layer of organza.

I was going to sew it in place with more of the little crosses, but I was worried they might get lost and just create a visual muddle. Then I got the idea of echoing the wriggle of the threads in a linear stitch. It took quite a while, but I really like the effect and the tree tones now work with the rest of the piece.

All these intense textures and fine detail are in contrast to the simple impact of colour in the top half, which is where I have begun introducing the text:

I am surrounding the church on both sides with a quote by poet Charles Bukowski, which expresses very well my feelings on the nature of belief. The text sits in much more space than on my first 'train commuters' piece so, to stop it rattling around on all that background colour, I rough-cut pieces of my gold organza to seat it on, before back-stitching the wording on top.

I have very, very nearly finished it, but I ran into a snag: half way through the text, I ran out of the navy embroidery thread. Darn it. Fresh supplies are on their way, so normal business will be resumed shortly. In the meantime, I am thinking about what to do for my next piece...

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Class One Trip to the Sun

Okay, I have to tell you about the best Christmas present I got this year. It arrived just yesterday, all the way from Beijing:

Class One Trip to the Sun is a beautiful, properly bound book, wonderfully illustrated by a new and talented author / illustrator on the scene, called Unique Liu. His mum posted it to me: 

Julia Jarman and I met Unique when we were doing our tour of Beijing international schools in September. Here, in the front of his book are a couple of photos taken when we signed some of our books for him, during our time at his school:

Class One Trip to the Sun was of course inspired by the stories Class Two at the Zoo and Class Three all at Sea. Class One's school visit into space probably happened a little while after their trip to the farm...

Unique's mum sent a copy to Julia too, of course. I haven't spoken to her yet, but I'm sure she too will be very impressed. Unique also gave one as a Christmas present to the librarian at his school who organised our visit. The school librarian sent me an email, saying that it had made her day to see such a burst of creativity inspired by our time with them and that Unique's book was the highlight of the entire school year! 

I love so many things about this book, not least Unique's cleverly designed illustrations, which really jump off the page.

The story is properly paced - he has obviously really studied Julia's technique, and some of the creative detail occasionally made me laugh out loud. For instance, Class One's space rocket is fitted out with a library, of course, complete with a robot librarian (called Tome) who, just as an aside, seems to be a big Michael Jackson fan:

It's no easy thing to create 18 illustrated spreads in a given setting with a set cast and give them all an individual flavour, to ensure they are sufficiently different to one another to create the variety you need across the book. Unique has pulled it off extremely well.

Each image is bold and uncluttered, while containing all the detail you need to tell the story and providing fun elements which make you smile. He's even thought about interesting ways to incorporate the text on certain spreads:

A HUGE well done to Unique and a big THANK YOU to his mum, for posting a copy all the way to Sheffield for me. I bet Julia is dead jealous that she didn't think up this plot idea!