Morning at the Museum

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Ely’s Stained Glass Museum is reached via a winding stone staircase which leads to the south triforium (elevated gallery) of the Cathedral. On a brilliantly sunny Saturday morning in mid December, it proved the perfect location for a sketcher on a mission to fill a couple of pages: out of the chill, far from the madding Christmas shoppers, with sunshine filtering through the coloured glass and enough space and solitude for unselfconscious drawing.

Halfway into my 75-minute visit, a carol service kicked off below; fittingly, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” was my accompaniment as I stood and sketched one of Edward Burne-Jones’s angel musicians.

The museum is essentially a one-room exhibition, but just the handful of subjects I chose to draw spanned the centuries, from 15th to 20th. I feel my visit was hugely enriched by having a sketchbook in tow: my eye lingered where it might not otherwise have done, enjoying the details of a few exhibits rather than pointlessly skimming them all. And even though, for me, God was not in those details, something pretty wonderful was.

It has been a long time since I last sketched in a museum, and I have Roz Stendahl to thank for the suggestion – and for so much else that’s influencing my sketchjournal lately.

My back pages

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This past week has seen me making a real effort to fill the remaining pages of my Canson sketchbook by the end of the year: I’ve covered seven pages in six days, two of them double-page spreads, and although not all of them are worth sharing, I’ve decided to stick a few of them up on my Flickr page for anyone who’s interested. As usual, you can find them in my Sketchjournal & Sketchbook set.

This double-page spread was done in pen and gouache with white gel pen, and shows you what I usually eat for breakfast (because, naturally, such questions drive the readers of my blog insane with curiosity.)

I am very motivated, as I continue to browse the pages of Danny Gregory’s An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers, by the possibility of taking my sketchjournalling to another level. My current Canson sketchbook has accompanied me for 18 months now, and has been a breakthrough book for me, its lovely smooth just-off-white paper accepting most kinds of media and allowing for a good amount of experimentation. It has seen me become far less concerned about making perfect pictures, more considerate of things like composition, mixing different media, incorporating written diary elements and – most importantly – just knuckling down to the act of sketching itself. I often cringe, though, at my own handwritten notes: the banality, the clumsiness, the obvious self-consciousness of them (… of me!). I’d like to do something about this, when I open my new sketchbook at the start of the new year.

Nine pages and counting.

Sketchjournal 19/11/09

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“Autumn wins you best by this, its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay.” ~ Robert Browning

Last night I finally sat down to sketch a leaf I picked up about a week ago. Pressed between the pages of my sketchjournal, it was temporarily spared the fate of crumbling into dust (the fate of so many other leaves my little girl and I have brought home over these autumn months) and I was able to paint it in light washes of gouache and, for the patches of green, Victorian Gold acrylic.

This shimmery gold-green paint was purchased on a recent trip to an art materials shop in Cambridge, where I also bought some coppery gold-leaf flakes. I plan to experiment with both of these in my oil pastel paintings.

We are on the cusp of that dark, dread season where the reds and russets and yellows of autumn are lost, crumbled, trampled, rotted and gone for another year. During the bleaker months, we are left to create our own colours, and must conjure shimmer and sparkle and light however we can.

362 Days Later

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Sharing more pages from my sketchjournal – the linen-bound Canson watercolour book I’ve been working in for almost a year and a half, but which (since October came, and with it a determination to seize more of the everyday) I’m newly confident of using up by the time 2009 is out. When I do, I shall replace it with another just like it. Though I also sketch on pastel paper and in a pocket Moleskine, I cannot imagine that there exists a more versatile everyday sketchbook than the Canson.

These were all done from life, the first of them in an attempt to resist the temptation I invariably feel, when sketching in graphite and watercolour, to strengthen the outlines in pen.

The next three pages were filled yesterday, during a wonderful, caffeinated afternoon of sketchwandering and chat here in Ely with Anita Davies. After lunch at The Maltings, we found ourselves a bench overlooking the River Ouse, and set out to sketch the Bantam tugboat moored opposite. I have never sketched boats before, which explains my tentative and unusual choice of graphite for this one; after a while, however, as Anita and I drew and talked and drew (and talked, and talked), I found myself relaxing into it.

Lunchtime’s chilly grey skies had given way to pleasant late-afternoon sunshine by the time we returned from a stroll around Ely to sketch the birdlife at Riverside. I was reminded that I’d long intended to try the first exercise in Sarah Simblet’s The Drawing Book, involving geese and some rapid gesture drawing. Each of these sketches was therefore done in about 10 seconds, but I wasn’t content with their layout on the page, so the real challenge became all about how to make the double-page spread work compositionally. The advantage of this lovely Canson is that it joyfully accepts most media; I solved the problem using gouache and white gel pen.

Anita and I were stunned to realise that it was three days shy of a year since our last meetup. We’ve pencilled in a trip to Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum for the next one, which I’m determined to make happen much, much sooner …

Recent sketchjournal stuff

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It’s image dump time, now that the scanner’s in action again, and I’m pleased to be able to upload a few sketchjournal pages – the first I have posted in a while. However mediocre I tend to think these are when I’ve done them (inhibited as they are by pressure of time, the presence of other people and/or the subjects I have to hand), in the chronological context of my sketchjournal, they end up meaning something more to me than the sum of their modest parts.

This last sketch was done late this afternoon.

26 February 2009

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More of an image dump than a blog post today: a few sketchbook pages from my Canson watercolour book and my February Moleskine.

Journal 26.01.09

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The joyous consequence of pasting a piece of brownish Murano paper into my sketchbook on Sunday was the excitement I felt on turning the page and finding myself with a midtone background for my next sketch.

I don’t much care for pastry, particularly of the flaky variety, but croissants have found their way into my kitchen in an attempt to give Melody her first taste of Frenchness in preparation for our upcoming weekend in Paris. Turns out she loves them, and can devour one with alarming speed. Turns out also that they make an utterly absorbing sketch subject. This was drawn mostly with Stabilo pens, which I’d had no intention of using until I realised lazily that while my gouache and coloured pencils were out of reach, the pens (friends!) were right there in front of me. In the end I did stretch to coloured pencil in the final stages to inject a bit of warmer colour.

Coloured pens & pencils with white gel pen on Murano paper in Canson sketchbook

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