Friday, 1 June 2018

More scenes from a train


When I'm booking my train ticket and I'm asked whether I have any seating preference (in a quiet carriage, forward facing, that sort of thing), it is only the next-to-a-window option that I go for. From the window of a train there is the time and space to project yourself into an endless theme of changing environments. And it is this view that I find much more interesting to draw than fellow passengers and the backs of seats.

It is exactly because the view is so constantly shifting that it is an interesting subject to draw. The narrative unfolds as you look. The sense of place is less focused and yet unmistakable: the landscape between London and Devon, and London and the East Midlands (the routes I draw most) are mainly rural, agricultural, with occasional long views to distant horizons. It's a character or an essence that is there to be drawn, rather than a likeness. Looking at it mathematically, if the train is travelling at 120mph, and I'm taking three or four minutes to draw each image (these are mostly in open A6 sketchbooks), then they can be an amalgam of about six to eight miles of landscape.

The whirring view gives the opportunity to be brief, immediate, stabbing and imaginative rather than be bogged down in the dullness of likeness. Here are a few I've done recently.

London Paddington to Exeter St Davids, May 2017
Rapeseed fields near Kettering, May 2017

(Above and top image) London Paddington to Exeter St Davids, May 2018 

Between Taunton and Exeter, June 2013

Between Taunton and Exeter, June 2013

London Paddington to Exeter St Davids, May 2018

London Paddington to Exeter St Davids, 2017

Outside Luton, February 2018 


Near Tiverton Parkway, the day Mum died, 17 August 2013

I've posted about drawing from trains before: From a train along the River Exe and Scene from a moving train.


Thursday, 26 April 2018

London's squares: Tavistock and Cavendish


With the onset of spring, I've found myself lazing in London's squares more than once. These two drawings show Cavendish Square (above), handily placed behind John Lewis on Oxford Street for post-consumerist recovery, and Tavistock Square (below), which is one of many lovely Bloomsbury squares close to where I have been working at the UCL Institute of Education.


I've written a longer post about five of London's squares on the Urban Sketchers blog.

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Sunday, 22 April 2018

Stephen Lawrence's memorial, London SE9


Bus stop H on Well Hall Road, Eltham, in south-east London, isn't hard to find. It's by a roundabout on a busy residential road where the two teenagers Stephen Lawrence and his friend Duwayne Brooks were waiting for a bus when they were attacked by racist thugs 25 years ago this weekend.

A memorial to Lawrence, which is set into the pavement, is harder to find. I have to ask four people before they can tell me where it is, several hundred metres along the opposite side of the road next to a large London plane tree and a letter box. The distance somehow communicates their fear that night, the effort Lawrence went to escape the attack before he collapsed and died from knife wounds while the police stood over him offering no medical assistance. Three bunches of fading flowers and a bottle of non-alcoholic malt drink have been left by the stone.

The murder led to an inquiry into the way the Metropolitan police responded to the case, resulting in the force being branded institutionally racist, exposing a botched investigation and corrupt police, and leading to a change in the double jeopardy law, a revolution in UK police practice in relation to race, and eventually to the conviction, 18 years later, of two of the five suspects.


There's a low bench across the road from the memorial where I sit to draw. The view is eventually obscured by a hearse and people arriving for a funeral service at a nearby church. It seems a respectable street, with people out gardening and decorating in the spring sunshine, but extreme right wing BNP candidates are standing in next month's local elections here, and will get support. I draw in the square sketchbook with its detachable pages (top image), and then in the A5 hardback across a double page (above).


Back down the road, before I cycle home, I draw the bus stop where it all started, and, for Lawrence, ended.

I don't know why this feels important, but Lawrence liked to draw, and hoped to be an architect.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Outside Cambridge Analytica and Facebook


It is only a five-minute walk between the Cambridge Analytica HQ in New Oxford Street (above) and the newly opened Facebook offices in Rathbone Square (below). Following reports in the Guardian that Cambridge Analytica harvested the data of 50 million Facebook users without their permission to build a system that could target US voters in the presidential election, and had links to Leave groups in the Brexit referendum, the press had descended.

There is a handily placed cafe across the street from the Cambridge Analytica HQ: from it there's a good view (buses permitting) of the media scrum waiting for a warrant to be served so the premises could be searched by data watchdogs. I drew from the cafe window alongside two weary trainee journalists – out of place among the tourists and the shoppers – who had been sent to watch and wait.


By the time I got to draw the Facebook offices a few days later, the warrant had been granted, and Cambridge Analytica's offices had been searched. There is a pristine newness about the Facebook complex, and the surrounding retails units are still being fitted out. While the company's share price fell, there was no media presence here and nothing to suggest it was anything other than business as usual.

I've always had an uneasy relationship with Facebook, and although I have deleted my account before, I'm currently still on it. Interacting through Facebook involves sharing your data with what is, in effect, an advertising company, and that will always involve give and take. Except with the arrival of Trump and Brexit, it seems to me that there has been too much take.



Friday, 9 March 2018

Inside one unfinished sketchbook


I'm back from a visit to Elisa Alaluusua's exhibition at the Art Space Gallery, not far down the road in Islington. The show features videos of four artists talking about their sketchbooks undertaken as part of her PhD research into sketchbooks. The camera is generally trained on the books as the pages are turned and the artist talks about what each contains and their working processes. (In the circular way that these things can work, I interviewed Alaluusua for my own research into sketchbooks.)

Some artists, as we know, discard their sketchbooks when they are filled: by that point they are considered to have fulfilled their purpose. I'm not one of those people. I have shoe boxes stuffed with sketchbooks on the top of book shelves in a way that would cause sleepless nights for the health and safety executive. Closer at hand and on a lower, safer level are more recently completed and current sketchbooks.

My current A5 sketchbook (shown above) is nearly full: a few empty double pages remain at the end. Seeing Alaluusua's videos makes me wonder what I would say about it, should her camera be peering over my shoulder. The book covers the months following the end of October 2017: drawings done wherever I find myself with time to draw, but also some done on a few gatherings meeting up to draw with other artists, and some done for an NBC News report. There's nothing very special about the sketchbook: it's usual in that some drawings work and some don't, some surprised me in how they turned out, and some disappoint, some I immediately disliked and am now keener on, and some are declining in my estimation. As if that matters.

What makes it stand out, for me, anyway, is that it is one of four made by my younger daughter and given to me as a Christmas present. There's a note from her inside the front cover to mark this. It's what helps me to mark this one out from all the others I have done over 30-odd years.

Usually I show an image or two from a sketchbook, but here I've scanned and shared the lot. I've included scans of the blank pages. I found in my research that digitised sketchbooks that missed out the apparently untouched folios seemed to be keeping secrets. Even the blank pages give something away. The dates can be a giveaway too: why the chronological gaps? What was going on then that stopped me drawing more?

The caption for each is on the reverse of the drawing, ie, on the following double page.