Once again these are small drawings done in the time my dog permits
Time has told me
You’re a rare, rare find
A troubled cure
For a troubled mind
And time has told me
Not to ask for more
Someday our ocean
Will find its shore
Nick Drake 1969
This is an exercise in using oils. I feel a bit more in control, mixing with a knife and using paint on the tip of the brush rather than over loading the bristles. Where needed I am blending on the canvas.
There was no sketch. The only idea was the hard edge between orange and blue centre stage and a vague sense of yellow and green at the top.
Rotating this 90 degrees and working further imposed a child-like grammar of landscape – blue sky and clouds above, earth colours, mountains, trees, grass, below.
The other way up, blue and white are water and surf crashing onto rock faces.
Rotate back one quarter and I am staring down the cliffs onto a torrent. It needs the dentate leaves of ferns and, far below, the small shapes of wheeling pterosaurs.
I’ve been following a lot of fabulous palaoeart on twitter recently which is rubbing off on me. See these as examples, fossil fish and the first pterosaur to be recognised as being furry. Here are some more. Mark Witton, whose sketch accompanies a piece on the BBC world service, is a fabulous palaeoartist I have followed for some time.
I hope everyone has had happy holidays. This is how my first attempt in oils is shaping up. These are water miscible, but that just means I can wash brushes without toxicity. I have switched to using linseed oil as the mixer where needed. This builds on a charcoal dog-sketch transferred onto a textured canvass, prepared by painting over an old image in white acrylic. After the first layer of oil I muted the garish colours in white, left it for a few days then scraped back. I will leave this to harden a few days then work over it again. There is a kind of plan, but I dont wholly know what I am doing. The dog-sketch was from late September and I have some source photos. However, I am not setting out to be true to the original scene. Comments and advice are welcome
I have started to think about how I use the sketches I make, integrating those ideas. Here are starts. Above, I have drawn on canvas drawn in mixed greys and impure whites with water-miscible oils. The next step is to imagine colours onto this. Below, I drew in charcoal direct onto a lino block, aiming to sketch directly into a print (it’s a flawed idea as I will rub off the charcoal guide in cutting).
My weekly playlist, selected for my by spotify, included this track
which took me back to this moment in history, perhaps lost in more recent events
I am an atheist, but grace is something in which we all share.
Somehow these dark grey trunks silhouetted against the winter afternoon sky brought to mind tombstones. The field sketch is below using conte crayon, charcoal and white gouache in tinted paper. Above, I tried to darken this with washes mixing burnt sienna with ultramarine or paynes grey, the watercolour scattering on the powdery surface. I have also turned down the exposure on the photo.
Below is the quick preliminary drawing, with the sun behind me. In reality that trunk is tiled with rich brown scales mortared in green. I need to have another try at capturing that.
Folk singer Rhiannon Giddens brings together musical traditions from her mixed race heritage in the southern States of the USA (her parents married only 3 years after the unconstitutional ban was overturned), along with Gaelic and wider sources. She is a phenomenal and versatile performer with ballet and opera composing credits to her name and recently appointed the artistic director of the Silk Road ensemble founded by cellist Yo Yo Ma. She is also a music historian. She traces the history of the banjo from its African roots through the travelling bands of enslaved then indentured musicians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the appropriation of this genre into black-face minstrelsy continuing well into the twentieth century, and the general abandonment of this tainted culture by its originating people such that the banjo associates today with white folk music.
The preface to David Olosuga’s book Black and British describes how Enoch “Rivers of Blood” Powell fantasised a history in which empire is excised, returning to an imagined time of Britons untainted by rule, misdeed and othered people. This is indeed the history served up by our schools. However, we cannot understand ourselves without history, and there is no history save that it contains Black and colonial history, out and inward migration, the rich mix of cultures and ideas that shapes our everyday heritage. Stripped down history to pretend a white narrative is thin gruel indeed.
On Sunday I chanced upon a live concert by Rhiannon Giddens and her partner, Francesco Turrisi, from her home in Ireland, relayed from Santa Barbara. These are the sketches I did live and playing back the show. You can see I was really challenged trying to capture the shape of her face and features while singing, and I put the gallery of attempts below as a record. By contrast Turrisi was quite easy to capture but he sat still and faced away from the camera looking at Giddens. In the sketch above, she is playing the viola and her face is full of shifting expressions as she looks back at him.
This is an attempt to render tones in false colour; using a pink and pastel blue to represent mid-tones between white and black on black paper. It began as a dog-sketch, that is a drawing done in the time it takes for a spaniel to become bored waiting for me. I reworked it later at home.
Alongside drawing I am also trying to learn to play this Balkan love song on electric guitar (“Phirava daje phirava …”, first line of the verse which translates as “I travelled mother I travelled, I went to Tetovo, to see Mirvet, to steal her eyes”).
Tetovo it a town in Northern Macedonia. I realise I have been near there two decades ago, visiting my mother on her Balkan adventures (working for a non-governmental organisation, manning a polling station in post-war Serbia, smoking, drinking and playing endless cards)
Three sketches in conte crayon on black paper started outside and finished at home, stimulated by the recent life drawings of Rosie Scribblah.
Here are the original sketches, the first from my bike on the footbridge over the ford by the watermill, the other two on foot while my dog sat patiently by.
These drawings are a small respite, but with a pandemic uncontrolled by active choice of those with power, democracy devalued and the world moving to the tipping point for massive climate change, there seems small comfort in art. We are on the brink of knowing whether democracy can have a small win against careless self-serving misgovernment, a little step towards the next struggle, or whether the full force of devastation and destruction is to be unleashed on us at this time.