Tag Archives: The British Museum

Drawing With Silver

1 Jul


There’s a new exhibition coming up at The British Museum this Autumn – drawings in metalpoint. These are drawings made with silver or gold onto specially prepared paper, a technique used before the invention of graphite pencils. I did some work in Silverpoint a while back (above), drawing directly from a life model.

The tool is a smooth barrel of wood like an etching needle but the point is a piece of silver wire, 99% pure. It can be used flat or as a very sharp point, but you have to be accurate because it can’t be rubbed out. Renaissance artists didn’t use the technique for quick scribbling, it was for careful studies. The paper has to be coated with a special Silverpoint Medium; I don’t know what’s in the modern version, but back in the day it was made from finely ground bone mixed with animal glue. When it’s dry, you draw the fine silver point across the paper and the bone drags molecules of the metal off and in a few seconds it tarnishes. This means that you can’t see the line you’ve drawn until the tarnish appears.

da vinci

Leonardo da Vinci’s Bust Of A Warrior in metalpoint

The British Museum is just up the road from my all time favourite artist suppliers, Cornelissen & Son, so I could combine a visit to the exhibition with a shopping trip to Cornelissen to buy silverpoint materials. Now that sounds like a plan 😀

Study Scribbles

17 Mar

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I normally scribble my daily life in my sketchbooks but sometimes I use them for research and study. These sketches above are from the current Ice Age Art exhibition at The British Museum, showing some female figurines, a mammoth spear thrower and various carved patterns that may be derived from entoptic phenomena, or images that are seen when the eyes are closed, sometimes under the influence of trance or hallucinogenic substances. Richard Rudgely‘s book discusses this sort of imagery in Stone Age art at length.

17BM2I love Assyrian art and always visit that section in the British Museum. Their carvings and sculptures are very detailed and I sketched some decorative motifs (above) and these giant talons (below), part of a complex man/beast. The Assyrians were creating these hybrid creatures centuries before the more famous Egyptian examples.

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Black On Black

16 Mar

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First off, Wales won the Six Nations Cup in the International Rugby today. A great end to a fab week. At the start Husb and I were in London for a few days, taking in some exhibitions. The Ice Age Art show at the British Museum was fantastic and it’s influence stayed with me during life drawing group on Thursday. We had a model who reminded me of the sculptures I’d seen at The British Museum so I pushed out of my comfort zone and used similar materials to the ones available to paleolithic artists, lumps of graphite, charcoal, chalk and carbon. I couldn’t use my usual fine line style so the drawing developed tonally using diagonal strokes, pulling the figure out of the darkness. It’s about A4 size and I prepared the background with a block of graphite before drawing on top. I like the effect of the different blacks on black. It’s on handmade paper I bought from the Tate gallery a couple of years ago.

Ancient Nudes

12 Mar

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Husb and I have just come back from a few days in London being culture vultures. Top on our agenda was The British Museum. I always get in a visit whenever I’m in London. It’s one of my all-time favourite places. I’m embarrassed that it’s full of plunder from our imperialist past but it is so awesome to have all these magnificent cultural treasures in one place. And it’s free – well, mostly. We managed to get tickets for the Ice Age Art exhibition. It is truly amazing.

I’m often asked why I work mainly with the nude. It’s because it’s a very old tradition in European art, starting with the Greeks about 2,500 years ago (and a millenium or so before that, in Mesopotamia). But as I’ve just found out, this tradition was well established in Europe way back in the Stone Age. These magnificent sculptures of the female nudes (above) go back 20,000 to 30,ooo years in European culture. They are very voluptuous and celebrate pregnant women or those who have had a number of children. The figure from France was very influential on Picasso who had a copy in his studio.

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By the late Stone Age, about 13,000 years ago, the style of representing the female nude had changed to a more streamlined and abstract form, much less voluptuous. These could almost be Modiglianis. I was glad to see other people sketching at the exhibition, as drawing the artefacts helped me to connect with those ancient artists; trying to understand how they worked gave me a depth of analysis that I wouldn’t have achieved by taking photographs.

An Assyrian Kneecap

5 Mar

Ink sketch: An Assyrian Kneecap.


So this is my last sketch from my trip to London last week. When I’m in the British Museum I like to wander around and just happen on stuff. I was having a good look around the Egyptian section and turned a corner and discovered The Assyrian stone friezes. Totally mind-blowing. Such beautiful and perfect carvings from, what – about 3,000 years ago? How did they achieve such remarkable beauty without all our mod cons, workshops, power tools etc… It bears out what Grayson Perry goes on about, extolling the extraordinary virtues of craftspeople throughout the ages.

At each end of every section of the frieze stood a guardian eagle spirit, with an eagle’s head, wings and human torso. However, although they had human legs, most of them has an eagle’s claw instead of a kneecap and a couple had a human fist in place of a patella. I drew one of these – I wonder what it signifies? The hand has only three fingers alongside the thumb, which is a convention used by modern cartoonists.


Spying and Scribbling

4 Mar

Ink sketch: Museum Kids.

Here are some more sketches from my London trip earlier in the week. I had a great afternoon at The British Museum, but tramping round galleries is really tiring. I know, people will be thinking, “Yeah. What a wimp. Try some real work!” 😉 But you’re on your feet for hours, pacing and looking at stuff. So obviously you need lots of tea breaks. So I had a bit of a rest in the coffee shop – had a nice pot of tea – and sketched these children at the next table. They were totally absorbed in looking at the things they’d bought in the museum shop. They sat under a HUGE totem pole.

Ink sketch: man at the tube station.

But all good things must end and I had to leave the wonderful museum and head back to Paddington for the train home. Had a bit of a wait at Notting Hill tube station so I sketched this man reading with the Victorian brick arches in the background. I’ve never had a problem finding people to sketch because most are so engrossed in their own little world that they don’t notice me spying and scribbling them. I wonder if any of them will ever see this blog and recognise themselves?

Masks At The Museum

3 Mar

Ink drawing: Masks at the Museum.


Had a quickie visit to London earlier this week and spend an afternoon at one of my favourite places on the planet, The British Museum. Oh Joy! I’ve visited many times and still haven’t seen it all. What to choose? Where to go? I started off in the African section, downstairs. Beautiful. Exquisite art, especially the bronze sculptures. I was really taken with these masks. Larger than life, one female, one male and both beautifully carved in wood and decorated with paint, raffia and fur. The male mask, on the right, had three fur protuberances coming from his head that looked exactly like giant Taratula legs.

I strolled through the Sutton Hoo exhibition in the Medieval section, amazing metalwork, tiny jewellery – how did they make that with such basic technology? One of the museum experts was sitting at a table with some artefacts on it and you could just go up and find out about them. I had a long chat with her about medieval Limoge enamelled reliquaries – how geeky is that? It was brilliant. And all free. We’re so lucky to have all this culture to experience. More about my British Museum visit tomorrow 🙂

Footsore And Florentines

2 Mar
Ink sketch: Ruskin's Tea Rooms.

Ink sketch: Ruskin's Tea Rooms.

Had a busy morning in London earlier in the week and ended up at one of my favourite places, a tiny tearooms called Ruskins tucked away down Museum Street, opposite one of my other favourite places, The British Museum. I was footsore and tired and badly in need of a nice cuppa tea tea and one of Ruskin’s delicious giant Florentines to pick me up. The tea was lovely and came in a big pot. The Florentine was just fabulous. I’m not normally too keen on sweet things but I make an exception for one of these. I sat back and sketched the table but I couldn’t resist picking away at the Florentine. I like the way my reflection is distorted in the pot.It fortified me after a morning shopping for printmaker’s supplies and got me ready for an afternoon at the British Museum. But that’s for another blog 🙂

I’m back – St. Paul’s – The Aftermath

1 Mar

Ink Sketch: St. Paul's Cathedral, London.


I’ve been away for a couple of days and really missed blogging. Had a chance of a quickie visit to London and couldn’t resist the lure of buying some new supplies at Intaglio Printmaker and immersing myself in The British Museum. But that was the next day. I travelled up late afternoon and went for a lovely meal in Chinatown with Husb – Morning Glory with garlic mmmmmmmmmm! Then we wandered over to see what was happening at the anti-capitalist camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral. There had been an eviction the night before and we stood outside at around 9.30 pm but it wasn’t dark. There was a heavy police presence and all the exterior lights were blazing, but the atmosphere was calm enough and knots of remaining protesters chatted with small groups of police.

I know that some of the protestors were people with jobs and homes, but quite a lot are genuinely homeless and / or vulnerable and these have now gone to the other protest camp in Finsbury Square, which is in a much poorer borough. Couldn’t The City, with all it’s wealth and huge banker bonuses, afford to do something for such unfortunate people instead of shunting them off into a part of the city that already has a disproportionate amount of social problems?

This was drawn very quickly and what struck me was the abundance of vertical and horizontal lines, an effect created partly by the bright lighting. I thought the police caps were very hard to draw.

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