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.

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 …

Wordless Wednesday #3

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Ely in the Mist

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Ely in the Mist, 1st of October 2004 (2009)
15″ x 12″ soft pastel on Winsor & Newton Tints paper

This picture languished unfinished for five years. I had struggled to capture the dog on the end of the woman’s lead, and was caught in a frustrating cycle of drawing and brushing off, drawing and brushing off … I had always hoped and intended to finish it, more than anything as a tribute to the wonderful Sooz (known over on the Soft Pastel forum at wetcanvas.com as Khadres), whose gentle virtual kicks up my backside encouraged me to do so much creating that I would never otherwise have done, including this pastel. Sooz died in 2006.

Five days ago, I pulled the painting out and prepared to put the finishing touches to it. After several days of struggling just as I had done before, and a mood darker than any I have felt in a long time, inspiration struck. Turning my problem dog into a small boy has enabled me to release myself from the pain of an unfinished thing, and to finish Sooz’s picture.

___________________________

I received a comment on this painting from Deborah Secor which means a lot to me, because she has totally understood why this finish made sense to me. She wrote: “I love the addition of a child running toward us instead of the dog, E-J. Excellent, and sort of a fitting statement, all in all. There’s always another generation running out of the mist, in some way, after all!”

Happy Blogday to Me

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Two years ago today, I started this blog. I’ve felt a shade pessimistic lately about its ongoing purpose, and about my own erratic attempts to make it a place on the web that’s worth visiting. Re-reading some of your past comments, however, has heartened me, and reminded me why I am here: the EDM community which led me to create this online presence in the first place has been responsible for so much supportive, appreciative and thoughtful interaction with fellow painters and sketchers over these two years that I would be foolish indeed to abandon the one virtual corner where I know I can open not only my sketchbook, but – if I need to – my heart.

Yesterday’s sketch for “(Almost) Every Day in February” was done between finishing work and collecting my daughter from daycare. I’m getting used to the idea, now, of sketching more freely and rapidly; of letting my pen take all the detours it needs in order to reach an approximation of what’s in front of me, without fear of mistakes. The previous day’s scribbles can be seen on my Flickr.

Joyeux blogiversaire!

Every Day in Feb: 12 & 13 …

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On Friday afternoon, after an outing with my daughter, I realised we would most likely not be venturing out again that day; so I took M into a nearby bar/café in order to try to fit in my daily location sketch before heading home.

After getting M’s coat, hat and gloves off and settling her in a comfy seat with a newly-acquired toy while I purchased some refreshments, I found that I was cashless – and that card payments under £10 weren’t accepted. Unwilling either to get M all wrapped up again so that I could take her with me to a cash machine, or to leave her in the bar while I dashed out alone, I eventually managed to persuade the young bartender to make an exception and let me pay by card. Once I’d brought M’s orange juice and my pot of tea to the table and removed my own coat and gloves, I found her sippy cup had leaked grapefruit squash into my bag and over my Moleskine sketchbook. Shaking off my pen, I determined to sketch a nearby chair. Between repeatedly having to leap up to pass M her orange juice so she didn’t knock it over, or to retrieve the various tops and bottoms of the Russian dolls she kept dropping on the floor, and keeping a vigil on my cup of tea in case the little feet jogging the table should send it flying, you can guess how extremely not focused on my subject I was.

The rushed and half-hearted result was a sketch I thought so bad and unshareable on this blog that I questioned the very point of my February challenge. What on earth am I doing, I despaired, imposing on myself this pressure to produce something every day, no matter how difficult that is, at the risk of ending up with a bunch of sub-standard drawings that I do not want to share and know don’t represent what I am capable of when the time and place suit me better? Since fiddling with some hatching, I’m ok with the sketch and feel I may have overreacted to its rubbishness, but at the time, it shook my resolve, and I haven’t attempted a location sketch in the three days since.

The truth is that I haven’t had any time to myself in public places in those three days: any time spent in cafés has been surrounded by small children, and other adults, where my role has been that of mother, wife and/or responsible friend, and not compatible with that of artist. And although this was precisely one of the reasons I so wanted to succeed in proving to myself that some sort of drawing was possible every day (the feeling that I was artistically inferior – less committed – than others who sketch and post on a daily basis), I’m not going to beat myself up for that now. I was disappointed, too, that I managed so little sketching on our trip to Paris, but I understand now that being part of the moment meant, before anything else, being present for my family.

I will continue throughout February, despite the missed days.

My sketch from the day before this one is viewable here.

Something other …

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… than an Every Day in May entry.

Occasionally, if a sketch is especially small and modest, I won’t post it to my blog until I have a handful of similarly small, modest sketches to keep it from getting lonely.

These pen sketches were done in Ely in March ’07 (!), February ’08 and May ’08 respectively.



Pen in small hand*book journal and Daler-Rowney sketchbooks.

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