Monday 30 July 2018

Sketcher in Residence

"Where the Best costs Less"
(0.5 marker in A5 sketchbook)

To my surprise, Bardon Mike recently announced funding for a project in Newcastle's Grainger Market that would allow him to appoint a Sketcher in Residence each week from late in July through August. I was lucky enough to be the second such Sketcher in Residence.

I was given three hours to draw whatever took my fancy in the Market and after getting over the feeling that there was just too much to choose from, I settled down on a bench opposite what used to be called The Weighhouse and started to draw. For those interested, I began with the top part of the scales and worked out from there, although the nice lady who was serving moved around quite a bit so her head had to be quickly put in and her body added a bit later.

Once you get into the flow of this sort of drawing, it becomes simply a matter of deciding on a shape of a bottle or a packet of crisps, then repeating as necessary.

When I was done, I took the drawing into the shop and spoke to the man who'd replaced the woman at the till by then. I didn't want him to think I was doing something suspicious by staring at the shop for so long, but it turned out he'd been given a leaflet by someone and knew what I was about. He did seem to think it was odd that I "just wandered about all day drawing whatever took [my] fancy," but what could I say? That is what  do.

No.82, Grainger Market
(0.5 marker in A5 sketchbook)

My second drawing of the afternoon was a greater challenge. Before beginning I decided to speak to the Asian woman in the shop in case she became worried by my stares, but all she said was "As long as you don't put me in!" Not a promise I could really make, so I said she's be in it, but only incidentally.

I sat on a bench outside The Weighhouse - the place where people get weighed, not where they get their cereal weighed! - and began the drawing with the £5.00 sign, then left to the till and the woman, now busy on her mobile phone.

While I was sitting drawing a man came and sat down and ate his rather strong-smelling lunch (I don't know what it was, but I wasn't tempted). After she'd gone, I was joined by a heavily pregnant young woman and two young men, all drinking from cans. One of the problems of having no sight in my left eye is that I couldn't glance leftwards to see if it was alcohol they were drinking. Is alcohol even allowed in the Market? I don't know, but I needn't have worried. They chatted to one another about the supply of blueys, who might get sorted out when they were in prison, what had happened to one of their PIP payments and which children of one of the blokes were actually his; and then the woman apologised for brushing crumbs off her front and knocking my arm. 

Throughout, I kept on drawing and the lady of the shop came and checked on my progress. When it was done, she took a photo of it with her phone and showed it to one of the Market staff who said "You'll be in trouble if your boss sees it and you're on the phone!"

I promised to take her a print of the drawing.

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Sketch Crawl - Tall Ships Festival, Sunderland

"Headwind", River Wear
(markers and coloured pencils over two pages of A5 sketchbook)

The heatwave continued on Saturday, so when I arrived at the National Glass Centre to meet up with the other Urban Sketchers I was faced with the now usual problem of finding no shade. No shade, and nowhere that wasn't full of people. There are seats along the quay near the Glass Centre, of course, but they were understandably occupied and even were they to become vacant, I realised that sitting on them would provide no view of the Tall Ships because the railing in front of the seats were fully taken up with sightseers leaning on them.

I do find that when I go to an event like this that I go with a certain mindset, such that if I can't find somewhere to draw what I've gone there to draw, I can't simply decide to draw something entirely different. For a while, I sat on the only sofa in the Glass Centre and worked up enthusiasm for drawing a display case containing two oddly shaped pieces of glassware, beyond which I could also see some diners in the cafe. As soon as I got out my sketchbook and pen, someone came through the door and stood in front of the display case and took root. 

I did a lot of walking around that day, trying to find a space among the crowds that would afford a decent view of one of the Tall Ships, but one by one the ships upped anchor and sailed out to sea. Their departure seemed like an echo of having to say a sad goodbye to Jenny that day, as she gets ready to return to China.

After a coffee in the cafe, we decided we might as well call it a day. Michael, of course, had drawn several sketches, but even his Tall Ship was rather perfunctory. The surprise of the day was Kim's nicely coloured sketch of one of the ships.

I really, really don't like going home from a sketch crawl without getting anything done, so just as I reached the path that takes me away from the quayside, I saw this little boat at rest and a completely empty stretch of railing. Taking the opportunity, I was able to go home relatively content.

Monday 16 July 2018

Streetfighting Men WIP

(Photo taken in Dubrovnik)

(Sketch worked up in Photoshop from traced photo)

(WIP, with some paint and collage added)

This is a painting long in the gestation. I took the photo on holiday in Dubrovnik in 2012; the men were quite a long way off and the photo definition was really poor. So poor that when I tried to enlarge it in Photoshop it became hopelessly pixellated and I gave up on using it for a few years.

More recently, I bought a lightbox and tried tracing the printed photograph, scanned the tracing into Photoshop and then added some colour.

The next stage was to square it up on a 10 x 10 in. board, then add some collage. For that I dug out an old piece of an etching I'd saved from the Print Room bin at University (30 years ago!) - hence the curious round shapes at the right produced by someone's finger print on the etching plate's soft ground.

At the left I stuck down a torn fragment of a sheet that had contained a Gestetner stencil (science fiction fans will know all about those!) I'd use to produce a fanzine even longer ago. Who said stuff doesn't come in useful?

The stairs in the foreground have been started with some pieces of paper torn from a Sunday magazine supplement. 

The collage additions have produced a few challenges for the development of the painting. Hurrah! I like a challenge.

Sunday 8 July 2018

The London Bookbarge

The London Bookbarge
(acrylic on board, 12 x 12 in)

On a recent trip to London, we went for a walk along the Regent's Canal towpath and came across the wonderful Word on the Water - The London Bookbarge. Taking a few photographs, I knew there was a special painting there, and so it proved to be.

This is possibly the most abstract painting I've done, yet, of course, it isn't abstract at all. It's just that all the shapes and marks suggest an abstract. I like it a lot and am pleased to find the owners of the Bookbarge like it too.

Just a note about the materials: although it is an acrylic painting, I used quite a few Posca Pens and resorted again to some old Letraset for the signage.

Friday 6 July 2018

Sketch Crawl - The Hoppings, Newcastle Town Moor

Closed Teapot Ride
(0.5 marker in A5 sketchbook)

With the return of the annual Hoppings to Newcastle's Town Moor last month, I thought it was an opportunity to invite a few Tyne and Wear Urban Sketchers to a mid-week sketch crawl. Unusually for Hoppings week, we had glorious sunshine and although drawing in the middle of the day before the funfair opened at 2 o'clock meant few people were about, it also meant a serious absence of shade. 

To be honest, I'd forgotten what a visual overload the Hoppings presents, with complicated rides and stalls, all garishly decorated. The challenge was to find the basic shapes and include only sufficient decoration to make the drawing work.

After a short walk around, I stood in the shade of a closed stall and drew a teapot ride, also closed. I saw it later after it had opened up for business and realised how difficult it would have been to draw then.

(0.5 marker in A5 sketchbook)

A little later, I decided it might be fun to capture some of the prizes hanging up on the stalls. Standing again in the shade of a closed stall, I drew these stuffed animals on offer as prizes on a "lucky number" stall. After a while, the man who'd been hanging up these soft toys, walked past me and I could sense he was standing behind. I ignored him and a few minutes later he went back to his job, shaking his head.

Helter Skelter
(0.5 marker, brushpen and coloured pencils in A5 sketchbook)

After a break for regrouping, a sit down with chips and fizzy drinks (by which time our original seven or eight had reduced to three), I set off with Luigi to take a look at the top end of the funfair before setting off for home. I'd just about decided that the long hot afternoon had worn me out but decided at the last minute to give the helter skelter a go. Standing in the shade of the back of a burger van, I did this last drawing. I got so involved with it that I found I was prepared to take the time to add colour with a red brushpen and some coloured pencils.

Then back home, reflecting on the fact that unlike my boyhood visits to the Hoppings when coconuts and goldfish were the prizes on most stalls, the goldfish were thankfully gone and there was a stall advertising that it was the only place to get a coconut, which you had to pay for.

No boxing booth, naked ladies or freak shows either, but we live in different times.

Thursday 5 July 2018

Sketch Crawl - Saltwell Park return.

Pets Corner, Saltwell Park
(0.8 marker across two pages of A5 sketchbook)

For a change, we had a beautifully sunny day for our sketch crawl return to Saltwell Park. Sun, of course, poses its own problems for sketchers, in that you either have to be prepared to stand out in it and slowly melt, or hunt for a place in shade and hope that affords a subject worth drawing.

I wandered around for a while, then found myself in an area of shade overlooking Pets Corner. People came and went, so I included a couple of them, but mostly I was concentrating on reducing some of the complex brick decoration to what you see here. I seem to have abandoned the A4 sketchbook completely now, but may have to think about using a finer point marker in the smaller A5 book.

After the drawing session, and after my foot had ceased being numb (standing in one spot on a slope does that, I find), it was back to Bewicks Cafe in Saltwell Towers for coffee and a splendid photograph of the usual suspects (and some new ones).

(Photo: Kim Willis)

Wednesday 4 July 2018


(acrylic/mixed media on board, 8x8 in)

The second of the two balcony paintings, using acrylic and collage. There are bits of a magazine page, an advertising brochure, the inside of an envelope, a paper bag from a shop in Greece, as well as a little sand. 

Tuesday 3 July 2018

Yellow Umbrella

Yellow Umbrella
(acrylic/mixed media on board, 8x8 in)

Someone called this "jewel-like" recently and I can appreciate that. Working at such a small scale means getting quite close tot he panel and that, in turn, leads to a certain kind of preciousness.

Nevertheless, I found the whole process of adding collage (and a little sand) and having to adapt the picture to those changes, quite fascinating. I know this method will become part of my working practice.

Monday 2 July 2018


(acrylic on board, 10 x 10 in)

At one of Gateshead Art Society's meetings last month, we were challenged to paint a flower painting alla prima in the two hours of the meeting. Below is the painting as it stood by the end of the session.

It didn't win the prize on offer (as I expected) but I liked it sufficiently to work on it at home and with the help of a pattern stencil I found recently, bring it to the state shown above.