Had to get up early yesterday and as I was lying in bed trying to convince myself that I needed to wake up [I’m not a morning person] I reached for my sketchbook and did some drawings of Ming the Merciless who was lolling around on the bed. She throws some great shapes.
Then reality hit and we set off for The Eisteddfod. In Wrexham! About 150 miles North. We got there around lunchtime and I spent most of the afternoon in Lle Celf, The Art Pavilion. I was really impressed with the exhibition, particularly Penny Hallas’ work and the H2Office in the architectural prize film. Here’s the link for it – it’s fantastic [http://floating-offices.co.uk/index.html]. I fancy living in one. Not sure the cats would be keen though.
Every year our council puts on some outdoor performances of Shakespeare plays in front of Oystermouth Castle in Mumbles. It’s one of those semi-ruined Norman castles and is a spectacular backdrop to the plays. We went to see The Merchant of Venice. I’d done it in school but back then I’d never really understood how racist and anti-semitic it is. Shocking, but also a very well written play and an insight into the past. Here’s an ink drawing I did at the performance.
Next to the castle is a secret walled garden where our allotment is. It’s lovely going down there in the day and spending a few hours gardening with that huge castle looming above us. We’ve got a shed there with a table and chairs – Melvyn made a little patio area from slate chippings and we take ice-cold elderflower cordial in the summer. There are lovely views down the wooded valley to the city in the distance and a fab coffee shop that does home-made shortbread around the corner.
I fancied doing some life drawing but it wasn’t life drawing group night so I borrowed Melvyn’s childhood Action Man, set up a floodlight and posed the little chap on a stool while I did this ink drawing of him. Best model I ever had – didn’t move a muscle. He’s got really big feet and weird ankles though and his boiler suit is quite threadbare. For the tecchies, I used Faber Castell Pitt drawing pens onto 200gsm watercolour paper.
We recently bought an electric fleazapper comb as part of our advanced weaponry against the appalling plague of cat fleas we’ve endured this year. Loads of households, including ours, are now immune to Frontline so we’ve started using a new prescribed medication from our vets. Alongside that we’ve sprayed the house with deadly poison; we’re hoovering top to bottom every day; and we’re combing the cats daily with our fleazapper. Unfortunately, the cats are not in the least bit grateful – I have the scars to prove it! Our little nephews think it’s cool though. Gruesome.
Cats are not easy to draw when they’re awake because they move around so much, so most of my cat drawings are of sleeping kitties, which can get a bit boring, so I jump at the chance of getting a different angle. Ming has always adored Melvyn and he her and she often uses him as a giant cushion. They had both dozed off one evening and I managed to get enough time to do this drawing.
We rescued Ming when she was just a tiny, starving scrap about 10 months old. She was extremely ill from neglect and after 4 nights at the vet’s hospital, touch and go, we brought her home and she promptly went to sleep stretched along Melvyn’s legs. We had three older cats and she was very scared and reacting aggressively with them but she obviously felt secure when she was with Melvyn. We’ve had her 9 years now and she still cwtches up to him and usually sleeps next to him on the bed. They’re pretty much inseparable and she’s brought so much fun into our house, it was worth all the effort to save her.
Sparta is our youngest of two tortoiseshell [calico] cats and typically loves her creature comforts. I’ve noticed over the decades of sharing my home and life with cats that there’s a hint of the ‘Princess and the Pea’ about them. They won’t settle for sleeping on a soft settee or bed if there’s a newspaper, towel, folded-up blanket or pile of washing on it – just in case the prince has slipped a dried pea under the edge of the mattress I suppose?
Here she is on top of a pile of folded blankets on top of a cushion on top of a couch. One day I’ll put a dried pea under a carefully arranged pile of soft stuff to see if they notice.
Swansea Steampunk night happens at a very atmospheric Victorian club which has developed a patina of faded grandeur over the past 150 years or so. Once a month it’s taken over by strange people in spectacular costumes and weird accessories. It’s great to draw there because I normally work with professional nude models and don’t get much chance to draw clothed people, especially this sort of mix of authentic Victorian and Edwardian outfits alongside bizarre scifi costumes.
It’s also very dark and it isn’t easy to draw in such low light levels. I usually draw in pen onto white paper but this night I used oil pastels onto black paper. I couldn’t see what colours I was pulling out of the box, but I liked the end result, even though her hair turned out purplish when really it was ginger. Nice bold waspie too.
Berlin, January 2010 and a group of artists from Swansea were traipsing around in two feet of snow when I did this unflattering drawing of Sandra during our guided tour of the Bundestag. Minus 15º C meant that we were all overdressed in lots of layers and although film and video are supposed to add ten pounds, drawing isn’t meant to! Poor Sandra; her bum isn’t this big really.
The tour included an insight into the social and political conditions that led to Hitler’s rise – it was grim. A lot of our group had parents who lived through World War Two and I found it harrowing at times, although I was heartened by the honesty of our German guide and the historical information displays. The building has loads of fantastic contemporary art installed and it’s topped off with a huge open-air dome designed by Norman Foster. We walked up it at the end of the tour and looked down on the city with snow swirling around us. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Day two at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. We didn’t cover everything on Day one so we went back and by mid-afternoon we were both shattered. I sat on a bench and asked Melvyn to pose while I drew him. He promptly fell asleep but I carried on drawing. Then a large museum guard with a GUN noticed him and stormed over. So I put on my VERY BEST British accent,
“Oh I’m SO sorry Officer, I asked my husband to sit for me while I drew him in my little sketchbook here and he dozed off. Silly old thing. IS it a problem?” [big cheesy smile].
He softened straight away.
“That’s OK Maaaaam, perhaps you could just raise him up a bit?” and off he went, smiling.
So I kicked Melvyn and warned him not to doss around in posh world-famous museums where the guards carry GUNS!
The Italian Renaissance painting in the background is a bonkers piece by Andrea Sacchi of Apollo crowning the noted Castrati, Marcantonio Pasqualini, with a very strange bit of bondage going on in the background.
Sparta is a small ‘Naughty Tortie’ cat [that’s calico cat in some parts of the world]. She was eight weeks old when she came to us about 18 months ago and one of her favourite pastimes was trashing our net curtains; running across the room at full speed, launching herself up as far as she could and then slipping down with her claws embedded in them, ripping as she went, like in the cartoons. She was so fast that she was up and at ‘em before we could stop her.
One day I grabbed a camera and clicked away as she vandalised the nets. I made drawings of some of the photos and then carved a series of woodblocks, which I printed up into limited editions. They’ve been in a few exhibitions and I’ve sold enough to be able to replace the curtains that she destroyed. Here’s one of them.
Just enough time for today’s quick blog after having a fight with a small furry cat over a flea comb. She won. Ouch!
We visited the Kathe Kollwitz museum during our Berlin trip. I’ve loved her work for many years and I think she’s one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. I defy anyone to go around the gallery and not cry – her work is profoundly moving. She suffered the tragedy of losing her son in World War 1 and her grandson in WW2 and her war memorial, ‘The Grieving Parents’ in the Vladsio German War Cemetery is imbued with a terrible sadness and hopelessness. I did a quick sketch of one of her tragic prints, which she did between the two World Wars; it shows the terrible living conditions in Germany that were partially responsible for the rise of the Nazis. Moving and chilling at the same time.
We went out into the sculpture garden at the back of the museum and a path in the deep snow led to the National Institute of Literature next door, which had a conservatory style restaurant. We had hot Nuremburger sausages and sauerkraut followed by the best Apple Strudel we’ve ever tasted, served with sweet, hot vanilla custard. The ancient friendly waiter led us out through the main building to show us the wonderful Art Nouveau hallway and landings that had survived the War, covered in exquisite mosaic and stained glass.