Drawing cold

This week I went drawing with a friend, who posts under the enigmatic name outsideauthority.  We met in Cromford, a village in Derbyshire where the abundant running water became the driving force for the first powered factories at the start of the Industrial Revolution.  From the start I was fascinated by this construction which took the oily calm waters from outside the mills and dropped them into subterranean tunnels.


The purpose of the first sketch of the day was to warm up, to open my vision and loosen my hands.   The weather was icy, so as I warmed up, I became progressively stiffer and colder, my legs lost feeling and my ungloved right hand became numb.  Interestingly, in the time it took me to draw this first sketch, in graphite stick,  OA had drawn about eight simpler, smaller, dynamic, expressive views around the mill yard.

For my second drawing, of the same structure, I set out to work faster and looser in fountain pen and water.  This version has been minimally revised with a knife to make clearer the shape of the falling water.


A short way along the canal we found a stone bridge which lifted us above the canal and the families wandering along the towpath.  Beyond the gate, rough pasture led up to the bleak dark woods along the road interspersed with houses, under a creamy winter sky.  Here I roughed out two views in fountain pen with a light dusting of conte crayon.  The second version is dominated by the curve of the bridge wall in the foreground.

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When I got home, I set out to rebuild this second sketch from memory, trying to find the tones and textures of the light lichened coping, smoother dark building stones, the rough concrete gate post and vegetation beneath.


Lastly, I looked along the canal.  What I saw was a glow of light catching the tree in the left mid ground and, at the back, a dark mass of wood spilling down from the hill, throwing black reflections in the flat grey water.  In the cold, conte crayons were hard and unyielding of pigment and brush pens made miserly marks.


At home again, I drew into this, but in the revised version the bare winter branches are at odds with what seems to be the bright colours of early spring.   Where are the dark trees which threw the black reflection into the canal?  The cold bleak dusk is lost and this sketch has become a confection.


Reflecting on our approaches to drawing, it seemed to me that OA made sketches, many very brief, full of life, replete with shape, line and feeling, which were complete in themselves, their purpose to carry information and ideas, perhaps for other times and new pictures painted in the studio.  I rarely now undertake new studio pieces. When I walked away from this last scene, the struggle with the sketch was not over.  I am on a journey with this particular piece that will not have reached a destination until I have taken charcoal and white gouache to it, and found again the feelings of that cold day in my marks.  

Anthea Hamilton: Project for door

On entering the second Turner Prize installation at the Tate Britain gallery, my son focussed first on Anthea Hamilton’s brick suit tailored from brick textile hanging against a brick mural.  He turned back on himself to be confronted by a giant mooning butt. I could hear him guffawing as I followed.  Like everyone else, we took turns photographing each other in that false doorway framed by giant thighs.


I was struck not by those giant buttocks but at what the sculptor had left out:  there is no anus and no swell of genitalia above the doorway.  I found myself reflecting with sadness and respect that the neat central line might be the scar left by a skilled surgeon when the choices were hard and stakes high.


Standing to one side and drawing, my thoughts changed to reflect a widespread mood of anger and despair.  Perhaps this is a monumental statue of an emperor’s golden arse as he displays his power and contempt.  But he is full of shit and has no balls.

It belongs in Trump Tower.




The dancing faun bronze sits centre gallery in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples.  It was found in a grand house built in the second century BCE , damaged in the Earthquake of AD62 and buried in ash in the eruption AD69 which obliterated Pompeii.  This sketch was an essay in the use of the graphite stick to build tones and leave highlight.


My daughter had retired fatigued to a bench some distance away and so drew the same subject largely from memory and imagination, making use of the black card I had put in her sketchbook to stiffen it for drawing.  I think also she found close proximity to its male nakedness a little challenging as a subject for drawing.  

She was unaware that I had already already steered her past the adjacent “secret room” containing priapic amulets and statuettes from Pompeii so shocking that, at various times since the eighteenth century, they have been held in a bricked up repository, and at others, shown only to persons of mature age and respectable morals, which apparently means old men.  I wish I had sketched in the secret room myself, but I too found standing there drawing those comic grotesque artefacts a little challenging. 

Structures without humanity


This was the large theatre in Pompeii caught in strong afternoon sunlight at the end of October.  This was roughed out in conte crayon and then the pigment was shifted about with a Faber Castell cool grey brush pen



This view of the amphitheatre was made from one of the tunnels through which I guess, the fighters entered.  It was drawn with the side of a graphite stick and then worked over in crayon and brush pen to add colour and deeper tones.  In the labyrinth which encircled it beneath the stands, there was an exhibition and video display of the young Pink Floyd playing this venue, not for a live audience but for the backdrop and acoustics.

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My daughter’s drawings of the large theatre populated them with larger than life people, whereas I eliminated the people who were really there, wanting only to show the structure without the clutter of humanity.

The ford by the mill wheel, evening

The small river emerged from dark woodland and spread in shallow ripples over the road.  I drew in the rain, drops splashing onto the page, spreading the ink and disabling my pens, catching the colour from the conte crayons and smearing it in dark-toned puddles.


The image in my mind was darker, with the mid ground trees gleamed faintly green against the deepening evening shadows.  The dried remains of that years reeds glowed yellow-brown above the reflected tones in the water.


On and off, through the evening, I revisited this sketch, scoring into the surface with a knife, scraping back tone with sandpaper and hard eraser, reapplying tone with charcoal and watercolour.