A spring day cycle ride, equipped with conte crayons and ribbed coloured Ingres paper.
Ravenshaw Lane is on a regular short cycle route for me, one I usually take when light is failing but I need to get out for an hour or so. At one end is an industrial unit, set in parkland, making large metal waste tankers called whales. The lane is tarmacked at either end but in the middle dwindles to a footpath and a narrow wooden bridge across the river. Standing on the bridge, I watched the fading sunlight filter through hanging rusted foliage in a garden above the brook. I managed only to get the bones of this sketch onto paper before darkness fell. I finished it at home from memory. Initially, I drew in the fence posts and plants scrambling up the bank and fence in high key, but muted them as the what light there was came from behind the fence: I wanted to emphasise the backlit curtain of brown foliage.
This was drawn in conte crayon then watercolour laid over this.
The next day, I went to Liverpool. I have been privileged to be the person who has taken an exciting piece of science into the clinic. The whole project, from its inception long before I was involved through to the current trials, was recognised with a prize.
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.
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.
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.
Today it has rained solidly and I have missed any chance to go out and draw.
Last Sunday, I got up early to go out, leaving the family to sleep in. I wanted to walk round the area I had seen the buzzards roosting. I was caught on my way out by my 8 year old daughter who decided she would come too. She agreed that she too would draw the landscape on condition I would then find somewhere to buy her breakfast.
So we only walked half a mile or s up the path but were rewarded with buzzards calling from several directions. She noticed the first to launch into the air and we watched it circling and feinting as it hunted.
We stopped in the corner of a field. The exercise is to structure the composition in light watercolour and work into it in conte crayon. I show here both our sketches. We shared the same palette but my paper had more weight and texture than hers. I also took a knife to mine to recapture the highlights on the barley heads. Composition is interesting. I realise I am trying to create big blocks of foreground colour in the sketch but to make this work I need to make the trees recede and give more strength to the sky. I had hoped to explore this idea again today, but as I say, it is raining solidly.
I have found, near the bird reserve, a 3 mile circular walk though fields. Over these last three weeks, thigh high barley has been ripening from blue green to yellow. Thick poles of corn have yet to reveal their richness. The oil seed rape has flowered weeks ago and now forms dense forests of waving seed pods, with sporadic wild oats reaching above. The ground between the plants is bare but there are wide margins to the fields offering some corridors to wildlife. One short half mile stretch seems to harbour the favoured roosting spots for buzzards. I hear them calling, mostly hidden in the foliage though I spotted a pair calling alternately in one tree.
Here I am experimenting further with small sketches, washed in first with watercolour, before working over this with conte crayon, eraser and knife. These were from an evening walk ten days ago.
I have a Spotify playlist containing fifteen versions of Summertime, the Gershwins’ resiliently popular aria. These are in various keys with different accompaniments. They range from the apple crumble duet of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong with trumpet, the rich tones of Annie Lennox backed by a simple piano refrain, a version backed by Larry Adler trembling and wailing on mouth organ and the rock blues sound of Janis Joplin. Billie Holiday’s version opens with an urgent beat and a brass growl. Charlie Parker’s saxophone sings with no need for human voice.
This song is a lullaby, and perhaps also draws on the regular rhythms of manual farm work. Louis Armstrong’s trumpet and the backing band swings slowly back and forth, and Ella Fitzgerald’s voice draws out slow notes leading to “hush little baby”. The swing picks up as Armstrong’s voice comes in, looking forward to “one of these days you will rise up singing, yes you’ll spread your wings and you’ll take to the sky”. He leads to the parent’s promise “’til that morning, there’s nothing can harm you, yes, with daddy and mammy standing by “. An R+B singer called Aaron Neville sings a soul jazz version in which this is chillingly conditional “if your mommy and daddy keep on standing by”.
About five tonight I realised the day would disappear and I would not have been outside or away from the computer. I drove out into the countryside with lightning crossing the sky horizontally and fat raindrops falling. Once I was encased in waterproofs and boots, the rain stopped. A full rainbow arched across low grey clouds as the sky above blued. I walked down a path between fields of knee-high green corn which glowed yellow in the evening sunlight or waved into blue shadow.
I stood on the path and painted these small sketches in watercolour. I then drew into the wet paper with conte crayon, lifting the paper’s surface to create highlights and shadows. These were photographed held at arm’s length in the sunlight without fixing.
At yesterday’s barbeque in the garden, my adult and ten year old sons told the oldest jokes in the book and fell about laughing. My daughter twizzling on the climbing frame is next to impossibly to capture as a sketch. Luckily her flailing hair obscures my poor attempt at her face.