Close Encounters

The Closes of Lanark remind me of the ‘Snickelways’ of York.  ‘Snickelway‘ is a word conjured up by Mark W. Jones in his 1983 book A Walk Around the Snickelways of York and it weaves together the words snicket, meaning a passageway between walls or fences,  ginnel, a narrow passageway between or through buildings, and alleyway, a narrow street or lane’.

York has many of these pathways, mostly medieval and often with unusual names such as Mad Alice Lane and Finkle Street. Lanark too has twelve remaining ancient pathways called ‘Closes’, hiding in plain sight along both sides of the High Street.

Wide Close on Bloomgate, Lanark

Wide Close, Duncan’s Close and Hunter’s Close show up on my drawing of 1-51 High Street (shown in full here).

The Closes map rich histories with their narrow footprint, architectural fragments and tiny details such as this doorbell in Shirley’s Close.  

Miss Shirley Baxter – door bell in Shirley’s Close

The Closes have recently been part of a project by Discover Lanark to make them safer, brighter and more welcoming and the latest stage in this project has been to install a series of information panels highlighting the history of each Close.

Kirsten Harris has brought layers of Lanark’s history to life with her wonderful artwork which fires up the imagination with the stories held deep within each of the Closes. You can read more about Kirsten’s creative process with the panel artwork here.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on ‘the backs’ – the parts of the Closes where clues remain to remind us of what’s been before as part of ‘Close Encounters’, an upcoming exhibition at The Tolbooth, featuring the history of Lanark’s Closes as well as the framed originals of Kirsten’s Closes artwork.

Kirsten recently posed a question: ‘Has Covid changed your artwork?’ This was such a rich question that I’m still reflecting on the answer but this project shows me that it has definitely changed my work.

Previously I would have reached for my fine-line mapping pen but this time, I went for a broad brush to paint lots of yellows and golds to reflect my need for brightness and light after a Covid winter. I drew with the ink dropper straight onto the prepared surface with a feeling of urgency and that to hesitate is a not an option.

For this series of twelve rear views of the Closes, I had a strong idea from the outset and did a rough concept sketch below. A bright optimistic background as foundation with grimy and colourful history overlaid, keeping a narrow strip of light to draw your eye into the close.

I chose a tall, thin 2:3 format to reflect the vertical feel of the Closes – to walk along them you can almost feel the stones close in as you pass through centuries of witnessing walls.

With the composition sketched out I then added ink washes of Payne’s Grey on top of the prepared surface to give an underpainting toned with yellows and greens – the colours of April.

Underpainting the rear view of Wide Close

The next part was me having fun working in some gorgeous rich pastel colours (by Unison), responding to the tones beneath and keeping in mind the title of the exhibition ‘Close Encounters’. Passing through these narrow Closes can be a little intimidating on a dark dreich day, but they are far from dead ends and it’s worth looking up.

It’s a great help to check that there’s a good balance of tones by taking a black and white photos as you go along.

Finally, it’s always good to take a step back and the bench outside the back door is a great place for an overview. More about the Closes next time. As always, thanks for reading.

Ronnie 🙂

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