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.


Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Postcards in Tate Library


In the latest example of things I have made heading off into the world and having a life of their own, a set of four postcards of my drawings and other items relating to an exhibition of my work at Wolseley Fine Arts, London, in February 1996 are now in the Tate Library at Tate Britain. In 1990, I spent six months drawing my way around England, culminating in that show.

Clockwise from top left: Ludlow Boots; the spires of Shrewsbury; Saxon Church, Bradford on Avon; Roman Baths, Bath.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Five days in Porto



I didn't get any drawing done on my first day in Porto. That was partly because it was a new city for me, and I was always left wondering what was around the next corner, and partly because it was a day for meeting and talking with people that I rarely, if ever, get to meet in person. To walk along by the river Douro that day was to bump into a stream of familiar friendly faces to greet (Elizabeth Alley, James Richards, Marissa Swinghammer, Melanie Reim to mention a few), which, being in a foreign land, is an odd sensation.

The ninth Urban Sketchers symposium (18-21 July 2018) was a bit like the gathering of the clan: around 800 people from more than 40 countries who draw on location descended on the city for the four days (although most, it seemed, arrived earlier or stayed later, or both). Everywhere you turned there was someone drawing, or people sharing their sketchbooks, or throwing their arms around an old mate.

Perhaps the talking was more important than the drawing (below I post some of my drawings from the five days I was in Porto). Within an hour of arriving in Porto I was meeting with the rest of the lovely USk editorial team: we work together on the international blog, communicating almost daily by email, but never as a complete group in person. We still weren't all present (Marcia Milner-Brage and Murray Dewhurst were missed), but it was close. (Image left to right: me, Gabi Campanario, Suhita Shirodkar, Béliza Mendes, USk president Amber Sausen, and Tina Koyama. Photo courtesy of Tina.)

This was the moment when I finally got to meet Gabi, the founder of USk, someone I consider an old friend, but who I had never met before. We first exchanged emails nearly ten years ago when I heard about Urban Sketchers. I'm proud to have had my drawings featured in his books, and he has kindly agreed to be in mine. Truth be told: finally getting to meet and spend time with Gabi was a much-anticipated highlight of my Porto days.

The remaining days were a rush of meeting old friends, making new ones, staying up too late, laughing over dinner, wondering how Porto is going to manage with the huge influx of tourists that we were part of, and drawing, drawing, drawing. There are too many names to even begin mentioning them here, but it was great being with you all. Happy days.

Some drawings:


Rua Chã, Porto: an alleyway I'd pass each day on my walk between the hotel and symposium centre.

Armazéns Cunhas department store, Porto.


Praça a Guilherme Gomes Fernandes, Porto.


St James's British cemetery, Porto: a group of us jumped into a minibus and spent a cooling morning drawing there. An entertaining lunch with Stuart Goss and Joaquim Espadaneira followed.


São Bento railway station: the Friday afternoon sketchwalk.


The view from the steps of São Bento railway station.


Virtudes garden, Porto: the Saturday morning sketchwalk.


Igreja dos Carmelitas and Igreja do Carmo, Porto. I drew this one to replace one of the same subject that was sold to Richard Briggs in the last evening's silent auction. Thanks, Richard.


City Hall, Avenida dos Aliados, Porto: the big final sketchwalk on the Saturday afternoon. Beneath this, out of sight, are around 800 people busily drawing.


From Rua de Ferreira Borges, Porto, looking east, with the cathedral in the background.


The House of Sandeman, across the river Douro, with the cable car that runs between the bridge and the waterfront.

Next year, it's all happening in Amsterdam.