Ink sketch: Sparta the cat.
Greetings, fur-less monkeys. I, SpartaPuss, have taken control of the Pooterbox again. I’ve been observing my world today from my vantage point on top of my boiler in my kitchen. It overlooks my garden and that’s what every feline goddess needs of course, a boiler with a view. I was happily dozing when the fur-less she-monkey started messing around with a pen and a paper book like she does. Poor soul. Still, stops her from hanging round on street corners. Which is apparently a bad thing. For a monkey. She wanted to draw my portrait so I gave her several arch looks, then turned away, which got her very excitable and she got the he-monkey to try and get my attention so she could draw the ‘death head mask’ on my face – allegedly! So I threw her a few more arch looks. Which seemed to satisfy her and she settled down for a bit. I like it when the monkeys are quiet.
In my garden is my favourite tree. I know it’s unusual for a feline to be interested in botany – nothing edible in that particular kingdom – but my tree is covered in frothy stuff the monkeys call flowers. Not very interesting in themselves but in a few months they’ll turn into little round sweet things that are very appealing to the meals-on-wings [blackbirds the monkeys call them]. It’s very exciting. The tree is packed with the meals-on-wings scoffing away and Ming-The-Merciless and I just sit under it with our mouths open waiting for them to fly in. Very entertaining. It’s even funnier when the fur-less monkeys spot us and run around chattering and screeching like they do. They don’t like us eating the meals-on-wings. They are very stupid.
Once upon a time a very well-educated fur-less monkey called Samuel Johnson coined the phrase, “a very fine cat indeed” about his cat, Hodge. He could have been talking about me.
Charcoal and pastel drawing: male nude.
I love the life drawing sessions at Swansea Print Workshop. They’re quiet and intense but also friendly and it’s a joy to work with such professional models. This is an older model who has a fantastic air of stateliness, even when unclothed and I have done many sketches of him that have been developed into monotypes and fully worked-up drawings. I normally work with a small ink pen into a tiny sketchbook, usually an A6, but I’m trying to push out of my comfort zone at the moment and did this one last night in compressed charcoal and chalky pastels into an A3 pad over the two pages. It’s a lovely creamy Bockingford-type paper, heavy and textured.
Digital photograph: our amelanchier tree.
This evening, after a long day at the studio, I hung out in our back garden in the lovely Spring sunshine and admired our amelanchier lamarkii which has just burst into bloom and is smothered in gorgeous starry flowers. It’s also known as the snowy mespilus in Britain and has deliciously sweet berries later in the year. We usually manage to eat a few but we have a family of blackbirds that return to the area every year and they gorge themselves on the berries, so we leave most of them for the birds. It’s a joy to watch them from the window, the parents introducing the little birdlets to the amelanchier berries. I have to keep an eye on Sparta the psychokitty though or else the blackbirds will end up as cat fodder.
Drawing in charcoal and pastels after Egon Schiele.
I’ve been a bit short on the creative juices the past couple of days so I did some sketchbook studies of works by Egon Schiele. I adore Schiele and find his art inspirational. I didn’t try to slavishly copy his drawings, but rather to analyse and interpret them using charcoal and pastels. I often find when I study historical artists who work with the human figure that the bodies are distorted. Nigel Spivey picks up on this in his excellent book How Art Made The World. Schiele’s figures usually look exaggerated anyway but this one is well weird, the left leg and foot couldn’t possibly be like that in real life, but he’s distorted them to fit his vision – or maybe to fit his paper.
I feel like I’ve been shaken out of my comfort zone by hanging out with Egon for a couple of days and am feeling more confident about a big project I’m about to tackle. More on that as it progresses. And now I’m off for a busy night, first to the opening of the new exhibition, with cake and ale, and then to the Swansea Steampunk Meet at Mozarts, with Earl Grey Tea and corsets.
Ink sketch: The Albert Hall.
Another unusually hot and sunny day in Swansea so I took advantage of the second floor fire escape again and drew another aspect of the rooftops, focussing on the top of The Albert Hall in Cradock Street which is next door to the other Elysium studios and gallery. It opened in the 1860’s as a music hall and later became a cinema and then a bingo hall, but it’s been empty for the past five years and is deteriorating and there’s a local campaign to save it. Quite a few of Swansea’s historic buildings are in a poor state of repair and it seems that there’s little that anyone can do about it. It’s a pity that they managed to survive the Blitz but are likely to be destroyed by indifference.
I’ve had a bit of a creative block so I did some charcoal and pastel studies from a couple of Egon Schiele’s watercolours to loosen me up and get the creative juices flowing. It worked and I feel energised and motivated again. I adore Egon Schiele. Can’t wait to get back to the studio tomorrow. Husb and I went straight from the studio to visit our little great nephew who is eight today. It was lovely sitting with four generations of family, aged between 4 and 80. We’re very priviledged to live in a time and place where people have health and longevity so that little ones can grow up alongside their great-great aunts and uncles.
Ink sketch: roofs and chains.
Another gorgeous day, warm and sunny, not at all like normal Swansea weather. I walked to the studio in the sunshine and although I love my huge windows, they face north and I wanted to carry on basking in the warmth, so I opened the fire door at the end of the corridor, which faces south over the bay, took my chair and a sketchbook and a cup of tea outside and sketched the roofscape for a while. The modern rounded roof at the back of the drawing is Swansea Market. There’s been a thriving market in Swansea since the 1600’s and one on this site since 1830. The current one was built in 1961 after the previous one was destroyed in the Blitz during World War 2. It’s nice being up on the second floor, seeing the city from a new vantage point. It was hard drawing that chain though.
Ink sketch: in the garden.
It’s unusually warm and sunny so husb and I spent a long hard day on the allotment and came home shattered and aching. Every year we resolve to break ourselves in gently, do an hour or so the first time, but we don’t because you never know when it’s going to pour down for weeks on end, so we make the most of the sunshine. Anyway, we did loads and I planted up some onion sets and seeds …. spinach beet, beetroot amd carrots. Came home and went straight into a hot bubble bath to relieve the aches and pains and then had a nice cup of tea in the back garden where I did this drawing. When we look at a scene, we only see a tiny fragment at any one time because that’s all we can focus on, but we don’t really notice because our eyes move across the scene very quickly and our brain makes a composite of all the images our eyes are taking in. But when you draw a scene, you’re recording everything equally, so you end up with a drawing that looks much more full of stuff than the original scene. Well it does to me anyway. Perhaps I have a weird brain.
It was so lovely that, even though it’s still March, I went against my Nana’s advice, “Don’t cast a clout ’til May is out” and I casted loads of clouts, sitting in the garden in thin cotton clothes, bare-legged with flip flops. Great stuff. Then husb and I took a walk down to Joe’s Ice-Cream Parlour to reward ourselves for all our hard work – I can’t resist a Cherry Temptation mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
I wish my niece would come and pick up her bicycle!
At the Enclosed Garden
Spent an hour or so at the closing event for Keith Bayliss’ exhibition at Mission Gallery, The Enclosed Garden; it was such a fabulous exhibition, I haven’t experienced anything quite like it before. It’s been a terrific success with many visitors coming back several times because it had such an impact. It’s intensely spiritual but not in a religious sense, with a mixture of sculptures, paintings and a soundscape, designed especially for the gallery, which used to be a chapel for sailors from the days when Swansea was a thriving port. I was tucked away at the back opposite a lovely tiny sculpture of two disembodied feet with wings, so I drew them. And the ladies sitting just by them.
Elysium Artspace is sponsoring an international painting competition, BEEP, in May and I thought I’d go for it. Now, I’m a printmaker and a scribbler, not a dauber, so I’ve decided to approach it from that angle, using printmaking and drawing tools to create a painting. Normally my work is quite simple and self-contained, using just one subject, usually a solitary nude figure but the topic for this competition, Dystopia, has spurred me on to try a multi-figure piece with at least five people in it. The composition that I’ve sketched out is a complex one so I find myself in the position of having to do an awful lot of preparatory drawings. I’ll usually do a simple prep sketch as the basis for my printmaking, but they’re not normally detailed. For the BEEP thing, though, I’m rattling off loads of preliminary drawings and thoroughly enjoying the experience, which is a new one for me. Here are a few in progress. I’m really excited about it. I’ve been using a squeegee and a roller to apply oil pigment to a huge piece of prepared cardboard. I’m in good company, Gerhard Richter has done lots of paintings with a squeegee and Toulouse Lautrec painted onto cardboard. I’ve got about 2 months left to complete it so I’d better crack on because I have to remember the drying time for the oils. Dystopia is a pretty grim topic and some of the drawings are getting me down, so it’s good that I do a lot of sketchbook work of the daily life around me, which helps to ground me and shake me out of the deep and dark things going on in my head.
Ink sketches, random faces.
My family get dragooned into posing – Lucien Freud did the same, not that I’m putting myself into his illustrious category. My young great niece spends Monday evenings after school with me and as we’re no longer allowed to send children down the mines or up chimneys I decided to get some use out of her, as payback for the enormous amounts of pizza it takes to fill her. Trouble is, the moment you tell her to sit still and pose, her face starts to fidget. Never mind, it’s good practice. The other people were sketched at random. Not brilliant art, but even tiny random scribbles like these help to develop my eye and zoom in on what’s important in a drawing, what marks need to be made.