Thursday, 15 February 2018

Babies and a Big Black Pig

At 7.45 on Monday morning I left our little house, packed one of the sketchbooks we made last week, and set off all excited (and just a little nervous), ready to begin the first official sketching day of my residency. We were visiting a pre-school, daycare centre. I was imagining lots of little-people running about in a very un-sketchable way and was ready for it to be quite a challenge…

If you remember, the research project I'm sketching is about Work Design which, put simply, is how the systems and environments we work in effect our happiness and well-being. The idea is to interview and sketch different workers in as many varied workplaces as possible. It's going to be fun (not least, having licence to be that nosy).

This particular daycare centre was chosen partly because it has a good reputation for creativity and an unusually relaxed approach. When we arrived, the researcher and myself did a walk-round, getting a feel for the place, then I set myself up in one corner of the huge outdoor play area, to paint an impression, helping set the scene for the interviews. 

I couldn’t believe how peaceful the place was. Apparently, there were over 100 babies and toddlers there, but you wouldn’t have known it. I had been prepared for screaming, fingers in my paints, pee on the floor... It was nothing like that at all. The children were all happily toddling about and there were almost no tears all morning.

The first interview was with ‘H’, who works with the youngest children: a male carer in an extremely female-dominated job. This was another reason why we were there: the researcher was interested in how that made him feel, not just while he was at work, but also when he told other people what he did for a living. But H was totally relaxed about the issue and clearly really happy in his work. I was so pleased I was able to capture something of his 'chilled' attitude from his body language and it was great that he did the whole thing with the baby in his lap - a good indication of how comfortable the children feel with him.

I captured a few other babies too, in their cute, matching sun-hats (though I had to be quick). I also made sure that I sketched the ducks, as well as the HUGE black pig, called Macca (who the children clearly love), because we discovered from the interviews that interaction with nature is a very important part of the ethos of the centre.

The sketch above was another of the children's carers, who we interviewed in the sandpit (an old wooden boat). It was indicative of the atmosphere of the centre, that neither member of staff for a second considered sitting indoors on a conventional chair for their interview. Which was perfect, providing the means for my paintings to convey important additional information, and with instant impact.

It was an excellent start to the residency and such fun. I managed to fill an entire 1.5 metre concertina in 3 hours. 

We rounded things off with something a bit different... 

The researcher I was working with that morning, happened to have a 2 year old of her own, who happened to have a copy of Stinky! so, to celebrate the morning's success and to say thank you to everyone at the childcare centre for letting us in and being so helpful, I finished off with a storytelling for all the toddlers. How perfect that, of all my books, it was Stinky! we had - all the children immediately recognised Macca! 

Monday, 12 February 2018

Australian Residency - First Week!

Well. Where to begin? I can’t believe that we’ve been in Australia for over 3 weeks already.

John and I had a holiday at the beach for our first fortnight, enjoying the sunshine at Peaceful Bay and not missing the cold, wet, dark winter at home at all. I did these sketches there. 

Then we caught the bus to Perth and got settled into our home for the next 2 months – a lovely, old house with a pretty picket fence and a little back garden complete with a lemon tree. 

Then last Tuesday was the 1st official day of my residency. Really exciting. I got to meet all the team at the Work Design research centre (part of the University of Western Australia), who all seem lovely and really excited about the work we will be doing. I was shown to my very own office and a lovely pile of art materials, just waiting for me. 

There was no sketching for a while though - I spent most of that first day working out how to get the best out of the two huge rolls of watercolour paper they bought for me, and setting up a temporary workstation in the lobby, because you need such a big space to make the sketchbooks

It then took John and myself 3 solid days to wrestle with the watercolour paper (it’s VERY springy when it’s rolled), to cut it into strips and laboriously fold them all into the concertina sketchbooks I am going to use. 

Then I made the detachable cover. I actually used my own blog post from when I was preparing for the Manchester residency, to remind myself how to do it! As well as helping to make the sketchbooks, John filmed the whole process. He is not allowed to be paid for his work, because he doesn’t have a work visa, but he is going to accompany me on lots of the sketching trips, as the informal camera-man, keeping a video record, so we can cut together a film at the end.

Making the books was surprisingly physically demanding and we went home every night feeling pretty shattered. That was fine though – we loved every minute. It is a really gorgeous place to work too: all huge glass windows looking out on bright blue skies and the wide river. We had a tour of the campus on Friday afternoon. It’s huge and equally lovely: wonderfully green and alive with exotic birds.

I began the sketching part of the residency bright and early on Monday morning, but I’m going to keep you in suspense for a day or two and show you how I got on next time.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Art and Offal!

As you can see, I arrived safely in Australia. We are staying in a lovely wooden cabin, in a remote seaside community called Peaceful Bay, where it is cooler than Perth. We are here for another week, before we travel back to begin my residency. 

Mostly, so far, I have been passing the time swimming, boating and lounging about, all of which is great fun of course, but I had an especially interesting day on Wednesday. Professor Parker, who commissioned my work here, also has a holiday cabin at Peaceful Bay. She thought it might be useful to do a try-out, since she spotted a great candidate for her research.

Remember that she is interviewing different people about their jobs? Well, the man who works at the local tip, Jeremy, really caught her eye, so I packed up my sketching kit and we drove up there to talk to him.

It’s a profession many people might turn their nose up at, but Jeremy told us it’s the best job in the world. He loves the freedom, the sociable nature of the work and the spare time between visitors, often hours to himself when, amongst other things, he creates sculptures from bits and bobs he has salvaged. 

I sketched his wonderfully peaceful little sculpture garden, tucked behind his shack. Stones, wood, bottle tops and other interesting shaped small things are strung together and hang from the trees. Aboriginal- style decorations, again from bottle tops, wind around tree trunks. A miscellany of larger objects are planted in the grass. There used to be much, much more - it was apparently the talk of Peaceful Bay - until one day someone came in the night and stole it all. Jeremy told us that knocked his duck off somewhat, so he's not making much now. Very sad.

I sketched for 3 hours. It was a surprisingly pleasant place, despite the piles of refuse.  The only down-side was an occasional waft of something ghastly, which turned out to be the fish offal bin! Everything else was unsmelly and really tidily gathered into piles. There was one huge pile just of discarded bikes! 

It was hard-going in the full sun, so when possible I tried to find at least partial shade, which did dictate to some extent what I drew. 

It was a very useful experiment to see if we needed to tweak anything and to help Prof Parker to better understand how I work. It was really interesting too. What a fun start!

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Australia Here I Come!

Golly, the time has come. Suddenly! We leave in the morning.

There are so many things to think about when you aren't going to be around for such a long time. We have even had to organise friends to come and live in our house, so it won't be empty.

I'm really hoping I won't get there and discover something important we forgot. I think it's all pretty sorted. The people I am working with at the research centre in Perth have helped with all the boring stuff, like my work visa and insurance requirements (don't you just hate all that side of things?), and they have organised some lovely accommodation too. Plus, so that I don't have to fill my luggage with paint and paper, all the art materials for my residency have been ordered in Australia and delivered direct to Perth.

I will post pictures of what I am up to on Facebook and Instagram, just as soon as I can, and will keep up the blog for the 2 months I'm in Perth, so do keep looking in. In the meantime, I thought you might like to see a few of the sketches I did at our most recent sketchcrawl, on Saturday. It was lovely to do it so close to me leaving, as it was a chance to say goodbye to my UK sketch-buddies. I'll be meeting up with Urban Sketchers Perth when I get there.

We spent our day in the centre of Sheffield, in the lovely Winter Gardens. I have had a few goes at this over the years and it is very tricky, as there is just so much going on. I think this is the first time I have felt that I have coped with it reasonably well.

That's a good omen I hope for my painting time in Oz, not just for my 2 month residency, but also the travelling time, when we'll be in Western Australia, and I hope to do lots of painting out and about, just like I did in Lanzarote.

Wish me luck!

Monday, 8 January 2018

Drawing Attention Interviews

A few weeks ago, I did a Skype interview for Urban Sketchers, the international sketching organisation, for whom I am a correspondent and instructor. They have a beautifully illustrated monthly newsletter, called Drawing Attention, which tells people about the exciting things that have been happening in the sketching world and gives details of events like workshops, which are coming up.

For 2018 though, they have gone a bit posh and are trying out an exciting new format, a sort of electronic booklet, which looks great! It also gives them a lot more space. Which is where my interview comes in (shame about the misspelt name though).

And it's not just me - there are interviews with the world-famous watercolourist, Liz Steel, from Sydney and the digital sketcher, Rob Sketcherman, in Hong Kong. I watched him in action when we were in Chicago together, and his speed and draughtsmanship are almost unbelievable.

There is also an interesting feature this month about a fellow Yorkshire sketcher, Deborah Rehmat, who talks about the challenges and benefits of sketching with ME. That's as well as pieces about the latest Urban Sketching chapters to be formed, in Syracuse and Hyderabad.

So, if you are at all into sketching, or would just like to see some beautiful paintings and drawings, take a look. You can also subscribe, completely free of charge, to future issues of Drawing Attention here.