Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Two days in Amsterdam

Happy family events meant I could only get to the Urban Sketchers symposium in Amsterdam for a couple of days – neatly arriving shortly before the closing reception. The newly launched direct Eurostar service to Amsterdam from London's St Pancras terminates in the heart of the city, close to both where I'm booked to stay the night, and the location of the symposium's final sketchcrawl around NEMO Science Museum. Bags dropped off, I head off with the small sketchbook and a few pens in an effort to meet old friends and perhaps even get some drawing done.

Korte Prinsengracht/Haarlemmerdijk, Amsterdam

It's a little while since I've been in Amsterdam, and of course things have changed. But one of the joys of going to the symposium is being able to explore a place while continually bumping into friends and acquaintances. Some are tenuously known only online, some are regular mates I've known for years, some I have only met a handful of times at past symposiums but feel like old friends, but all have their sketchbooks out and are communally soaking up the place on paper.

From the NEMO ramp, Amsterdam

Around the NEMO Science Museum there are dense thickets of people engrossed in drawing everywhere you look, standing, sitting on every available spot, on walls, in cafes, legs dangling over the dock. There are familiar faces focused on the job in hand, drawings interrupted by happy reunions, conversations about how to endure the intense heat wave that coincides with the symposium. Later, there is the huge group photograph, of perhaps more than 700 people standing in the sun by the dock: at the back where we stand we become just pixels, but it is enough to be there.

Closed to traffic: Willemsburg, Amsterdam, drawn from the Juice Brothers cafe

The closing reception is big, full on, with a cast of hundreds, and snatched conversations, all too brief. There are too many people to mention by name, but I must mention Gabi Campanario, the founder of Urban Sketchers, who it was great to spend time with again. He launched a fantastic movement more than 10 years ago, one he could never have known would develop as it has. Respect too, to those many people who have joined the vast voluntary operation that it has now become.

Anne Frank's house, behind the tree on the right, Prinsengracht, Amsterdam

The final day was spent around the city, drawing with friends before the time came to board the Eurostar home. Next year's symposium is planned to be in Hong Kong, not such an easy place to visit from this side of the world. It was interesting to see a discussion on Swasky's Instagram about the environmental effects of the symposium through the vast numbers of people it now attracts and the flights inevitably made. In my experience, creative people are more alert to this kind of issue than many, and so perhaps some already take measures to offset their carbon footprint, but when even world leaders refuse to accept there is a problem, the sense of emergency we face on the climate issue can be all too easily dismissed.

From the London-bound Eurostar train window

There are more of my drawings on Instagram.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

From a Greek island

The latest sketchbook has mostly been involved with a longer-than-usual family summer break to the Greek islands. I don't always find beach holidays the most inspirational times in terms of drawing. I find myself writing more in my sketchbooks when I am away at the coast (I've spared you the daily diary that intersperses the drawings that I have included here). But especially when hanging around harbours waiting for ferries (such as above, which shows the new harbour at Mykonos while we waited for our late connection to Paros to arrive) or lingering in cafes, it is inevitable that the sketchbook comes out.

Antiparos is quiet in relation to some other Greek islands and in some ways unchanged since we last visited it the week after Labour came to power in 1997. The harbour (above) looks the same, and the road turns into a dirt track at the same point on our route to our apartment. The sun still shines non stop, and the beaches are still just perfect for lazing in the shade with occasional dips into the sea. I don't think Tom Hanks or Madonna had houses on Antiparos when we were here before, which they seem to have now.

The beach at Psaraliki: we went back a lot, although there were two or three beaches there rather than just one, all a short walk away. The general idea was to get a place under the tamarisks and head for the beachside cafes after a decent length of time spent reading, swimming and not thinking about the UK's dire political situation.

Over on neighbouring Paros, we looked around Naousa and inevitably spent some time later on waiting for the bus back to the ferry port. The normality and banality of the scene there (below), and perhaps most other bus stations, was the most attracting scene to draw of the lot for me. There was time to draw the postcardy scenic alleyways around the castle in Paros (bottom image), but at the bus station there was no pressure to get the overwhelming beauty of the place, but just its everydayness. Which is what I like best.

It was a great holiday.

I'm on Instagram. Some of these images can be found there.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

This sketchbook: from Brexit to Google's new HQ

Here are six pages from one of my current sketchbooks: an A6 one that I generally use across an open page so the gutter runs down the centre of each image (and hence down the centre of this blog post). The sketchbooks always end up telling a kind of story through what I have drawn in them, and during this one (so far) it seems I have been demonstrating against Brexit (above), travelling on the train to see my dad, drinking coffee in cafes, walking with N, and watching London's skyline change. Here they are, in no particular order.

From the London to Market Harborough train

A walk around Woodberry Wetlands

Cafe in Bloomsbury

St Martin-in-the-Fields and South African Embassy, Trafalgar Square, London

London's new Google HQ rises in King's Cross

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Five pages from Sheffield and the Peak District

We get the train north from St Pancras to Sheffield, and then head on to Edale in the Peak District, which starts almost as soon as you are out of the city. Standing to draw on Sheffield's street corners with Saturday shoppers all about (above) makes using a pen the natural choice. I prefer to stand up to draw partly because I can work from exactly the point I want to, but also because I can shift around several paces in each direction to make better sense of what I'm looking at. Most importantly, perhaps, is that it means I work quickly and resist the temptation to worry about piddling detail or try to make things look vacuously pretty. There's no need to set out an array of equipment: it's just a pen and a book. I'm not keen to hang around. (The odd bit of colour below is added back in the hotel.)

Barely knowing the city, I end up taking the inevitable choice of city centre subjects, such as the cathedral and winter gardens, rather than the places that may have better represented the city if I'd had more time to explore or arrived with better knowledge. We find some of these places later – the great restaurants of London Road, and the post-industrial grit of Kelham Island – by which time it's too late to draw anyway.

Having travelled on to stay at the Rambler Inn at Edale, thirty minutes away by train, I get the inks out on the window sill to work. The railway line from Sheffield leads up through this valley and behind Lose Hill on the right. It's a less linear scene than found in the city, and the logistics of taking lids off three pots of ink are easier than when working outside, so it seemed a more obvious medium to use. Later, I do another of the same view...

... and then a final one looking out of a window facing towards Kinder Scout. The Peak District strikes me as a more inky kind of place than Sheffield. I'm not saying places always have a medium that is best suited to them, but, for me at least, it seemed like it this time.

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Monday, 10 December 2018

In the pages of Manchester Sketchbook 2

Two of my drawings, I am happy to say, are included in the new book Manchester Sketchbook 2, which features the work of 36 artists from around the world who took part in the Urban Sketchers symposium in the city in the summer of 2016. Copies of the book – and the first Manchester Sketchbook – are on sale via the website of Simone Ridyard. My thanks to Simone for inviting me to have my work included in it.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Out now in The Artist

The January 2019 issue of The Artist magazine includes an article by me about how sketchbooks are laboratories for experimentation and play, and not necessarily places to make pristine works that aim to garner likes on social media. Our most "liked" works aren't always the ones leading us in the best direction.

Thanks to Isabel Carmona, Liz Loxton, Swasky and Lis Watkins, whose works are featured in the article.

Monday, 19 November 2018

On letting go

I've often thought that the process of drawing has similarities with the ups and downs of form experienced by sportspeople. Sometimes things flow effortly, and then at other times it can seem like hard work, when nothing goes as you'd hoped. I was reminded of this while reading On Cricket, a new book by the former England captain and psychoanalyst Mike Brearley. A passage in it refers to playfulness and losing inhibitions:

"... I think that writing, like playing cricket, like, in fact, many activities of life, involves at best a benign sort of marriage between discipline and spontaneity, between hard work and playfulness, between letting go of conscious control and the application of sometimes critical thought."

Of course, it doesn't always work out as you'd like. The playfulness can easily come unstuck. In terms of drawing, that is what sketchbooks can be for: an arena for coming unstuck and being spontaneous, and occasionally, sometimes (and not necessarily in the images included here) an uninhibited zone where you can happily surprise yourself, buoyed up by all that experience, hard work and discipline. And not mind whether they gather two likes on social media or two thousand.

From the top: the view from the top of Tate Modern looking towards Blackfriars Bridge, three scenes from a moving train going to the Midlands from London, and Cornelia Parker's Transitional Object (PsychoBarn) in the courtyard of the Royal Academy, London.