Holiday sketches: kind of twee

I remembered this spot from cycling here 2 years ago.  A wind pump sits amid fields.  Then, the fields in front were freshly mowed and the hay baled in huge cylinders that glowed in the morning sun.  This time, it was evening and the light came from behind the pump house, putting it in shadow but back lighting the long grasses in the foreground.

This was a quick sketch as I cycled home, with the colours added later from memory.

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I found this pencil sketch of the same wind pump, viewed from the neighbouring field, made a couple of years ago.  These were notes for a watercolour painting I never got round to doing.     I thought I would add it to this post to remind myself of how my approach has changed.

2012 wind pump Mallorca

Layers

Here, one evening, I looked down from the high bluff made of volcanic rocks that had been forced through the more ancient softer petrified sediments.  I had previously drawn these contorted rocks in watercolour and sketched the shapes made by the two rock types in ink and wash.

I approached this using a board covered first in thick, unfixed charcoal, drawing in shapes with fingers and an eraser, reserving the brightness of the light reflecting from the sea. I then worked into this with very wet white acrylic, suspending the charcoal dust and building the contrasting tones.    Finally I worked into the wet layers with coloured acrylics, a couple of sticks of chalk pastel and a sharp knife hacking my way back to the paper beneath.  I photographed the piece on site.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

I set off with the piece on a board in the back of the car.  After a while I pulled into a lay-by and looked at it again.  In the deepening gloom, I ground more charcoal into the surface and slopped on more white paint, lifting the charcoal but obscuring the colour.  I tipped my remaining sepia ink in a streak along the line of the rocks.

I imposed rotational acceleration on wet, slowly drying paint as I drove round twisting lanes up and down hills, catching in the headlights owls, startled into flight by my progress.

I photographed it late that evening, still drying, paint still moving slowly to invade the bastions of ink.

2014-07-20 Pettico Wick (3)

This is the dried form, as it now is, waiting further action.

2014-07-20 Pettico Wick (2)

 

 

 

Contortions

I sat on a grassy dome of ancient lava, ate a mutton pie and painted this small sketch. In the left corner is Pettico Wick, the little harbour marking the transition between the hard igneous cap of St Abbs Head and the softer sedimentary rocks making up most of the coast line.

2014-07-18 Pettico Wick St Abbs

Along this coast are cliffs made of high angled slabs of layered rock.  These layers were laid flat during the Silurian period more than 400 million years ago when fish first developed jaws and land became clothed in plants.  What is so striking here is that these layers have been contorted and tightly folded by unimaginable forces, affecting the shapes of the overlying grassy slopes.

I drew this in indelible ink before washing over watercolour.  Below are fast line drawings as I tried to get a sense of the scenery.

2014-07-18 Pettico Wick07.29 (1) 2014-07-18 Pettico Wick07.29 (2)

My knowledge of the geology comes from monographs called the Coastal Geomorphology of Great Britain.

Pettico Wick

St Abbs sits on the right shoulder of Britain, just below where the landmass tapers to a narrow neck and is topped by the head, which is the bulk of Scotland.  It is a headland of high cliffs.  In the summer, the precipices host colonies of breeding kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills.  For this painting, I was sitting high up on cliff tops at St Abbs, looking northwest to where land curves round out of sight to the nuclear power station and Dunbar, on to the mouth of the Firth of Forth and then to Edinburgh.

2014-07-14 St Abbs (3)

One evening last week, I walked 20 yards off road to Pettico Wick, a small bay at the north east of the headland.  Suddenly, a story  jumped out at me, a narrative of lifeless depths and sudden fiery violence.

2014-07-14 pettico Wick (2)

This is the first drawing I did, as usual using pen and ink and water on the fairly resistant paper in the Moleskine sketchbook. It has been adjusted using the “glow” filter on the photoshop app.

What I tried to show is the bay and sea, with a jetty stretching from land to slide beneath the water.   To my left are the regular layers of sedimentary rocks sloping down into the sea. These are formed of compacted silt, mud or of greywacke, a term for irregularly sized mineral granules set in a fine clay-like matrix. These rocks  fracture with simple percussion.  In front, only a hundred yards away are sea stacks formed of amorphous dysplastic lavas, the same stuff that forms the right hand cliffs.   These rocks are much harder and resist the limited force I can bring to bear.

The original sketch is below.

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It was obvious that in this small bay, I sat on a boundary marking ancient cataclysms.

I now know that the rocks on my left were laid down in very deep seas about 430 million years ago.  This is before our ancestral line could be dignified by the term fish.  The greywacke rock comprising mixed size rock grains is apparently formed from submarine avalanches and turbidity in the deep water of oceanic trenches or at the edges of continental shelves.  Some 15 to 30 million years later, volcanic eruption sent lava flowing in various directions.   This was at a time when fish had radiated and come to dominate the seas.  The relative resistance of these hard rocks has created the headland to my right.

 

 

 

 

Cutting the snow

20140210 linocut Yorkshire hills in snow 1

I am continuing to explore the translation of field sketches into prints from cut lino.  The idea – not yet realised – is not to copy the picture into a print form, but to abstract from the sketch into a set of patterns.

Malham Cove (15)

Posted before, this sketch was made in water-soluble pencil while standing in sleet near Malham Cove in Yorkshire.

I miss that place.  In this weather, the sink-holes must be the sites of  torrential falls.  I need to arrange a few days walking.

20140210 linocut Yorkshire hills in snow

20140210 linocut Yorkshire hills in snow 2

201402 Yorkshire hills snow 02

This last image was from a previous linocut of Malham Cove.  I had used the inky roller to burnish the back of the paper and then, on a whim, printed over the top.

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… seen as the person you would wish to be, not the flawed person you are.


On the train from Johannesburg to East London, I felt physically sick that I had breached the taboo that people of good conscience should not have dealings with the apartheid state.  During that journey, my tiny transgressions of racial segregation went unnoticed by others and left me frightened.

From East London, I hitched up the East Cape highway to reach Butterworth where I would have three months experience in a hospital, a part of my last student year.

My choice of South Africa for my elective training was self consciously political.  The British establishment supported the South African state, characterised resistance  as communism, saw racial segregation as good neighbourliness.  Left-leaning factions exploited opposition to apartheid as an icon of their own ideological purity, likened Labour-led councils to Soweto, linked Conservative budget cuts to the Sharpeville massacre.  I took this opportunity to go and observe, to bear witness, if only to myself.

Past students had written gushingly of their pride in helping out in a small newly independent developing country called Transkei.  But Transkei was a lie, a Bantustan, its independence a sham, its purpose to deny people citizenship within the country as a whole.  This strikingly beautiful place had given South Africa Steve Biko, martyred during a 22 hour interrogation by police in Port Elizabeth in 1977, and Nelson Mandela, lawyer, leader of the African National Congress, then guerrilla leader, by then in prison for 22 years.

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I was woken at midnight and rushed to theatre.  A young man had been stabbed through the heart.  Our anaesthetist was barred from reaching us by the curfew.  Our only surgeon had intubated the patient but needed me to squeeze the bag so he could open the chest, release the trapped blood compressing the cardiac muscle and stitch the breach.  He had never seen, let alone done, this procedure before.  The man survived.  Every night, though, the morgue filled with those who, bored and angry, had occupied themselves with axe fights and had lost.

All equipment  was used and re-used,  lumbar puncture needles blunt and bent so the trochar would not release, suture needles sterilized briefly in disinfectant between one casualty and another.  Each day, in the medical clinic, cachectic old men in their forties, starving, presented only when the progressive malignant blockage in the gullet reached completion: a standard story, instant diagnosis confirmed on X-ray, no treatment, no palliation.  In the midst of abject poverty, there  was obesity and the devastation wrought by poorly controlled diabetes.  There was no privacy: long lines of people in front of multiple consulting stations in a large room.  A hundred waiting ill, convulsed in laughter as I tried to take a history in my comedy Xhosa.

Nurses who were princesses, were outstanding in their professionalism and skills.  There was a rag bag of medical staff, each with a personal story of how they washed up in this strange pariah backwater.  Bizarrely, several were refugees from oppression in other nations.

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I returned convinced that racial segregation was entrenched, that apartheid would be overturned only by bloody revolution, that the white tribe would fight back tooth and claw and to the end.  That was 1986.  This week, watching the archival footage, I was again reminded by how truly remarkable was the peaceful transition to universal suffrage.  Once again, I was moved, profoundly moved, to watch excerpts from the Peace and Reconciliation proceedings: Desmond Tutu, in the chair, breaking down in tears as one after another, individuals recounted their suffering or their crimes.

In the commentary, I heard many times the impression interviewers had of Nelson Mandela.  Here was a man who saw you as the person you would wish to be, not as the flawed person you are.

mangove swamp (2)

Wood for trees II

Wood for trees (15)

In the experimental drawing workshop, the instruction was “cover a big sheet with chalk pastel”.

Why?

To build layers, drawing, smearing, wetting, fixing, drawing again.

Others made patterns and abstracts.  I still had in my head the image of the fallen tree set against the backlit foliage.  I did not particularly wish to create a recognisable landscape piece but it was a start.

Wood for trees (7)

I reached a point where I wanted to disintegrate the picture I had started.  I ran it under the tap, placed more paper on top and walked on it.  Actually, the underlying image was rather resilient.

Wood for trees (9)

The print was interesting though.

Wood for trees (14)

At home, I rebuilt the picture from scratch, in just three colours, cobalt blue, rose and aurolean.

Wood for trees (16)