Vast works of other ages encumber

Stse is an almost-island, separated from the mainland of the great south continent by marshes and tidal bogs, where millions of wading birds gather to mate and nest.  Ruins of an enormous bridge are visible on the landward side, and another half-sunk fragment of ruin is the basis of the town’s pier and breakwater. Vast works of other ages encumber all Hain, and are no more and no less venerable or interesting to the Hainish than the rest of the landscape.

Ursula K le Guin, Four Ways to Forgiveness, Gollancz 1995.

Le Guin’s galaxy was long ago colonised by humans from Hain.  Indeed this is so buried in history’s layers that humanity’s first origins are forgotten, and people on Earth believe themselves aliens.  After that great expansion and genetic manipulations by the ancestral Hainish, peoples in each system developed in isolation for a thousand millenia.  Time dilation during near-light-speed travel and cold-sleep means that your left-behind children and grandchildren grow old and die before you make your new start on another planet.  In the last few thousand years, which might be only a few lifetimes for space-farers, the Hains have sought to bring all humanity back into a loose community called the Ekumen.

This positioned le Guin as a galactic social anthropologist.  The underlying framework for each story is that of Ekumen observers exploring and falling foul of variations of kinship, politics, religion and economics.  Her most recurring themes are variations on gender and sex, and the power relationships which spring from these.  The Left Hand of Darkness, her novel written nearly fifty years ago, to me seems fresh and challenging in its deconstruction of our assumptions about humanity, encapsulated in the sentence “The king was pregnant”.  The four novellas which comprise Four Ways to Forgiveness offer perhaps a more conventional take on sexuality, shockingly so, for it is tied into power dynamics, slavery, rape and oppression.  It took me a second reading to confirm that her gentle writing style was, in each narrative, capturing a love-story.

The throw-away description of the enormous bridge, the ancient vast ruin present but ignored, gives to me the feel of le Guin’s universe.

I drew this listening to the hypnotic rhythms of Canto Ostinato (Simeon ten Holt) weaving a tapestry of sound from four pianos.

Does the walker choose the path? Or the path the walker?

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.

Mark making IV

2016-06-05 canal sketches (4)

These drawings are from an evening cycle ride a couple of weeks ago.  I built texture with moving lines before adding colour.

2016-06-05 canal sketches (2)

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.

2016-06-05 canal sketch grey wagtail

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.

2016-06-05 canal sketches (1)

Mark-making I

2016-05-07 pulling down the libraryBirmingham 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.

 

Resistance

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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.

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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.

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The less often I draw, the harder it becomes to do it.

 

Back to drawing birds

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.

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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.

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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.

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Layers

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.

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Tuscany: view from the marsh to the hills. Layers of watercolour and conte crayon.

I now use watercolour and conte crayon in varying order, lastly using a black brush pen to accentuate shadows.

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Tuscany: view from the marsh to the hills. Watercolour background over conte crayon resist showing seed heads in foreground, with strong shadows drawn in black brushpen.

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.

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Water, reeds, hill terraces and distant wooded uplands composed in layers and drawn in layers of conte crayon and watercolour.

Sometimes this works, often not.

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View through the telescope: egret and distant flamingos with water, sand, woods and hills in horizontal stripes.

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.

 

 

Light, tone, colour

As an artist, I have been trying to express myself through line, tone and colour.  In a similar way, the Pope is a Catholic and bears are ardently exploring the fundamental nature of their being by crapping in the woods.

2015-08-08 Siden Hill Wood watercolour (2)

Talking of woods, I walked on Saturday for several hours around a small copse, part of the nature reserve, which appears is visited rarely by birders (or by bears exploring their spirituality).  I can draw undisturbed.  Buzzards were roosting in the northern edge and periodically sweeping out across a recently cut field and back up over the trees, voicing their decrescendo cries.

On both the last two weekends, at one particular point, I could hear above me in the high foliage a duet, each a sequence of sharp calls of slightly over a quarter note in each of four or five bars.  Then a rest before a repeat sequence.   These moved through the canopy but only once did I glimpse a brown barred body.  The closest I can come to identifying these is as sparrowhawks.  This is based on the RSPB website, though many other recordings show sparrowhawks to make a more rapid staccato sound.

The picture above was an exercise to get myself drawing.  This comprised a quick pen sketch in fast ink then watercolour over this.  I stopped myself short of obscuring all the white paper.

This was the second sketch of the same composition, with photos on site of its first steps shown below.  Watercolour was spread on wet then lifted with damp tissue.  I drew into this in a mixture of paint and conte crayon.  The most essential colour is the pink which sits between and behind the greens and yellows.

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This last was intended simply as a tonal study of the sunlight slanting down onto the trunk and leaves, in charcoal and white on warm-grey paper.  However, I found it hard to resist overlaying this in the greens and browns, thus losing the point of the exercise.

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