The drawing below was done by my adult son, who never normally draws, on the occasion of my birthday this week.
The phrase in the title references the Book of the Dead, the working manual for the Abhorsen who hastens the unquiet spirits through the seven precincts and past the final gate.
These drawings are from an evening cycle ride a couple of weeks ago. I built texture with moving lines before adding colour.
In each sketch, I roughed in an outline in pencil, drew in pen and added colour with a limited palate of watercolour, sometime with conte crayon.
I followed the bright blue flash of a kingfisher into the dark under a bridge. When I focussed on where I thought it had alighted, I found instead a grey wagtail, bobbing and dipping on a branch.
Birmingham Central Library has been rehoused and the old concrete building is being demolished. The machine sprayed the structure with water while clawing at it.
At the beginning of May, during an outing for my son’s birthday, I stood in a vantage point and drew this in fountain pen and conte crayon while waiting for my family to catch up with me.
This is the remaining sketch from our holiday in August. I took a long walk past the expensive marina, along the coast path and then inland up steep wooded hills. It was hot.
This sketch began with a layer of conte crayon, then water colour scattering over the layer of resist. This is shown below. It’s photographed under different lighting I notice (intense sunlight), showing more dramatically the blue of sea and sky.
After a couple more layers of crayon and paint, I blocked in deep shadows with the black brush pen.
September has been a thin month for drawing, limited to a charcoal sketch of Jeremy Corbyn when he won the Labour leadership and some desultory drawings of birds in the nature reserve. I tried to mix conte crayon and watercolour again as well as drawing in ink, but could not find the technique that day.
The less often I draw, the harder it becomes to do it.
The Italian countryside, the heavily wooded hills and marshy lowlands were largely devoid of bird song. An eerie quiet pervaded the landscape. In the marshes, the few ducks were well hidden and the open water was mostly populated by herons, egrets and flamingos. I understand from the media that Italians’ passion for hunting has overwhelmed the ecosystem and left it depleted of its natural bird life. I did see a family of wild pigs snorting their way through the undergrowth. Again, I read that wild pigs had been devastated by hunting and the population has been rebuilt using a strain from Hungary which is smaller and which breeds more rapidly.
I shared a bird hide made of dry reeds with a photographer smoking a cigar. He caught some fabulous shots of circling raptors and a kingfisher which alighted close to us. I concentrated on the flamingos and egrets. These were some distance away. I stated drawing, spotting through the telescope and copying awkwardly onto the pad. As juvenile flamingos came closer, I worked more loosely using brief glimpses through binoculars and drawing more from memory. There is a tension between seeking anatomical accuracy for an unfamiliar species versus failing to capture movement through slavish copying.
I found once again that I have no standard technique for drawing in the field. Here, in great frustration, I have switched between drawing in pen, and painting a rapid shape which is then overlaid with conte crayon.
My field kit had become slimmed down to fountain pen and water. Over this year, walking through the local fields, and, shown here, on holiday in Italy, I have expanded it once again.
I now use watercolour and conte crayon in varying order, lastly using a black brush pen to accentuate shadows.
One objective is to create contrasts between opaque and transparent layers. Another is to play with the crayon as a resist – the watercolour falls off it or collects in fractal shapes on its surface making interesting textures. Conversely, grinding the crayon into wet colour builds deep interesting opaque patterns, sometimes lifting the paper to leave white highlights with adjacent ridges that catch subsequent strokes of deeper pigment.
Sometimes this works, often not.
In doing this, I have noticed that my compositions are often built of flat layers; rectangles of fore, mid and background like a sponge sandwich cake seen from the side.