Day of Rest

While we were in the Haute-Savoie we did a lot of mountain-walking – that was a big part of why we’d chosen to visit the Alps. However, I have my limits, and was really feeling in need of a day of downtime, while my husband was itching to do a very ambitious scramble. Happily, we negotiated to go our separate ways one day, so we both had some of what we were hankering after.

Having waved him off to defeat death on the Dents de Lanfan, (credit due here to a fellow WordPresser for lots of photos – thanks!) my day was spent reading and sketching. Not very high risk activities really. As luck would have it, this little tractor was parked at rest just within view of the rental house; I’d been eying it up for a couple of days, and so I sat in the midday sun and sketched. In fact, I got a little bit burnt, despite the sunscreen, as I just wasn’t quick enough.

For once, I took care over the composition of the picture – something I’m rarely disciplined enough to do. And this circumspection did in fact pay off. I was really pleased with the outcome, and I like the way this little tractor in its shed looks like a book illustration. It’s a salutary lesson to me that I should just take some time before starting a picture to imagine where the boundaries are and how it’s going to sit on the page.

Interestingly, I also took a different approach with the watercolour, starting with an ink drawing and adding colour, whereas all to often I start with a watercolour and then try to correct or enhance it with fineliner. The whole suddenly seemed much more intentional and effective. Food for thought there. I’ve also learned that my travel palette consists of very cool English colours, certainly not always the best for showing southern European heat. Maybe I should invest in  a hotter selection of half-pans for taking away to warmer climes. Christmas is coming…

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Hammocking about

One of my favourite places is the Haute-Savoie in France.  A formative year there as a teaching assistant, as part of my French degree, meant I fell in love with the place. A trip back there is always special, and sharing it with family and friends even more so.

We stayed at an Air BnB in Alex, a hamlet in the foothills of the Alps. It was a fabulous home, with a beautiful view of the mountains, and a perfectly-situated hammock for taking it all in. The hammock got plenty good use over the days we were there, as is right and proper. It just had to be drawn.

I had with me a new sketchbook which I’d been given by my lovely colleagues at school – a square spiral-bound book from the Tate (luxury!). The paper inside was really nice for drawing in pen – just toothy enough, just smooth enough, and a good, heavy weight.  So, I spent a happy time looking out over the neighbours, checking out the fabulous view and watching their chickens roam as I sketched. They made it in, if you look carefully; tails up, heads down, hunting insects. Happy days.

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Looking up

On a short break to Yorkshire we went with our friends to Lotherton Hall, it being just a short and pleasant walk from their home. We’ve been several times before, but have never actually visited the house. This time we ventured inside, covering our muddy walking boots with strange blue plastic bootees to protect the carpets. The Hall was a wealthy home which had not been updated since WWII, with elements dating from much earlier, and which houses several collections.

One of the inhabitants had been a collector of pottery, and there was a varied display of items from centuries old to the very modern. I rather liked the shapes and contrasting colours of these vases, and the fact that there was a handy chair nearby ensured that I settled to sketch them. I quite enjoyed the strange viewing angle, and for a while considered leaving the objects floating in air before deciding to add in the glass shelf. The shadows were very strange, due to the way the cabinet was lit. It was certainly odd not putting in any shadows at the base to ground the vases, other than the relatively dark areas underneath the pots themselves.

Once again this was done in fineliner and Tombow with a waterbrush. I really like this combination for fast sketching when I’m out and about.

Lotherton Glassware ink

Well, for whatever reason, WordPress has decided not to let me crop this image – I’ve been defeated three times, so have decided just to let it be. Apologies for the unartistic background in view. Hey ho.

Are you sitting comfortably?

The V&A museum in London is a great place for sketching. On the very busy day I visited the gallery staff went above and beyond in locating me a folding stool to take with me as I mooched about looking for a sketch subject.

In a strange coincidence I ended up on the top floor furniture gallery, where there were far fewer visitors and some wonderful examples of furniture. These two chairs really appealed to me, both for their differences and similarities.

The first, older chair I neglected to read about, and now I regret my carelessness. I was attracted by its combination of elegance and comfort, and the beautiful turquoise silk upholstery.

The lower chair is by Frank Lloyd Wright, dating from 1904 – I never knew he’d had a bash at making furniture. This one’s an office chair, and seems to me to have a rather robotic personality. Although it looks rather hard and angular, maybe that’s a good thing in an office chair, keeping the user focused and away from daydreams.

V&A Chairs inktense

I first made sketches in black fineliner, and then, having carted my Inktense pencils around London, I decided that a splash of colour on these chairs would be just the thing. So that, with the help of a waterbrush, was what I did.

Inappropriate

In the middle of this heatwave we’re having in the UK it seems a bit perverse to post a snowy scene, but I’ve a small backlog which must be blogged, so my apologies.

This scene was made after I’d been for a run along a track I know very well. I used my impressions of the view, rather than an accurate recording. The aim was to have a little experiment with my Dr PH Martin’s inks, using a coffee stain ground. I wasn’t sure what paper I wanted, and ended up on some textured acrylic paper which gave me plenty of opportunity to move the pigment around. I’m not a coffee drinker, and found the smell of the coffee very off-putting. I think I’ll use tea (which I also don’t drink, but which I think smells nicer) next time. I quite like the effect though.

More background was added in blue with water on a big brush. From then on it was all mark-making starting with a sepia fineliner and then adding sepia ink with a small stick,  a brush, and finally my fingers.

Running track ink

This picture was pure escapism and experiment. I’m not sure it entirely works, but what does that matter?

On the Edge

I was given some new Staedtler fineliners in a range of lovely colours – first quick test out was to see how they worked together without water (they are water-soluble). What better than the kitchen windowsill? And yes, those are hyacinths, which look a bit worse for wear.

Windowledge pen

The pens were very nice to use (I restricted myself to just three colours here, don’t want to have too much fun all at once) – precise, and just the tiniest amount of solubility with each other, which I quite enjoyed. Yes, I think they will find a place in my art bag – I’ll squeeze them in somehow!

Stream of Consciousness

On a recent trip to Yorkshire we ventured out with friends to trek Gordale Scar gulley and Malham Cove limestone pavement. It was a brilliant walk, with much to see, including Peregrine Falcons circling and swooping on the rising air.

Malham bridge tombow

Towards the end of the walk we had a little time in Malham village, just enough to be able to quickly, and slightly uncomfortably, sit on a stone wall to sketch the old bridge over the peaceful little river. A flirty Dipper paid a visit too, perched on a stone and ducking into the clear water to catch its meal.

My favourite black Tombow, water brush and fineliner once again did the honours on my A5 W&N sketchbook (I’m gradually getting used to the ridiculously smooth paper). Happy days.

Red Lights

My husband suggested a sketching trip to the local railway station. Why not? It’s a little rural station still with a few of its Edwardian features amidst the slightly less antiquated railway paraphernalia. We found our pitches, mine selected for its view of the converging lines of perspective and the overhead cables.

Uncharacteristically, I sketched this one out in pencil first, A5 size. I was rather worried about making a mess of the perspective and the eraser came in very handy. Once I’d got the basics in I firmed up the lines in fineliner, and added the shading using my trusty Tombow and water brush.

Downham Station tombow

Taking a leaf out of Hugo Costa‘s sketchbook, I added a couple of hints of colour (and the lamp-posts really were red) to enliven the picture a little – rather a departure for me, and I enjoyed what felt like the riskiness of the addition. It’s not the tidiest sketch I’ve ever made, but an interesting composition.

Small is…beautiful?

While staying with some friends I found myself with a few minutes to spare for a quick sketch.  My funsize (3.3in) sketchbook came in handy to draw this equally dinky netsuke sumo wrestler. Not necessarily beautiful, but he has attitude aplenty.

Funsize sumo tombow

I used a fineliner for the drawing, then added the contrast with a black Tombow watercolour pen. I really enjoy how the ink separates into blues and reds when water is added, and the crunchy edges which ensue. The Tombow with water behaves so much better on this Pink Pig sketchbook paper than in my newer super-smooth W&N sketchbook. The trouble of course with working this small is that every mark seems to count double, and mistakes even more so! But it’s good practice trying to get it right first time in the ink, and I don’t mind (in fact I quite like) the scratchy pen marks round the edges as I felt for the shape.

Spirit of experimentation

What was I thinking?

Well, the idea for this picture began on a visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park with good friends. There was a large exhibition of Tony Cragg’s work, which had some fascinating sculptures, seemingly abstract at first glance, but from which faces materialised as you changed your point of view. These were gloriously intriguing, but the item which attracted me most was a charcoal drawing where the artist had very quickly overlaid outlines of vases, all originating from a single point. It had a great deal of dynamism in its simplicity. I was very taken by it.

This prompted an animated conversation with Andy, my sketch buddy, about how we might take that picture as a starting point for something further, a stepping stone away from the realistic and into a more graphic or abstract vibe. I knew I wanted to explore using more than one medium, and I had some acrylic inks which needed to be played with. Experimentation was to be the watchword.

I did a small preliminary drawing to see if the composition I had in mind might work – I thought it could. First then was to mask the edges of the green-tinted A3 watercolour sheet, and put down my base drawing in ballpoint pen. Although I liked the delicacy of the ballpoint, once I’d put on the acrylic ink (used onto wet), the lines were wholly overwhelmed, so I used Crayola crayons to bump up the outlines. The red band in the middle started with silver oil pastel, then briefly went very red indeed in oil pastel, and was subsequently scraped back again as I wasn’t happy with its dominance. I’m not sure what that band is supposed to represent; it just wanted to be there, so I let it in.

And here’s what transpired…

Glasses ink and biro

I had hoped that the masking tape would hold back the acrylic ink and prevent it from straying; obviously that didn’t work! But I quite like the way that the ink has crept under the barrier and spread in some areas. Also interesting was the way in which the different colours of ink seemed to behave in the water, with the tendrils of pthalo blue spreading much further. This might have been down to the order in which I laid the ink on the wet areas (can’t remember which colour went on first).

So, although I’m still not sure about how the whole hangs together, I definitely learned a lot on this one, and had a pretty good time making it.