The ground is hard, the air is cold and the year is brand new but I like to think of January as a time to be sowing seeds – seeds of ideas for the year ahead. I may be one of a minority who loves January here in the Northern hemisphere but apart from the cold, it’s a quiet time for reflection that I cherish.
When I began this personal project to sketch and document all that grows here in our patch of orchard in the Clyde Valley, I wasn’t sure that I would stick at it. However, it was in the opening weeks of January 2020 that I wondered who else was drawing wispy strands of withered Rosebay Willow herb that day? Just another common weed.
Or the shrivelled leaves of a hazel next to fresh green buds?
Or weather-battered rose hips?
My underlying concern was the climate crisis and the observations that so many of the things we now take for granted may not be present for future generations.
So I continued to draw day by day – whatever caught my eye or was near to hand given that much of a January day is dark.
Little did I know that the practice of daily drawing was going to see me through some unexpected times ahead.
As each drawing took its place on the pile, it became more interesting when seen together. I have since begun to bind a print of each sketch together in a hand made book for each month. It might take me a while to finish but I’ve started!
I will close here wishing you all the best for this New Year and happy idea sowing!
In Yorkshire, they’re called ‘ginnels’ or ‘snickelways’. Here in Lanark, they are called a ‘close’. Lanark High Street has 14 of these narrow openings that weave in and out of the town centre, tracking centuries of movement and trade.
Up until last year, they were dark and run down but the Discover Lanark BID and Lanark Community Development Trust have transformed the High Street’s closes by turning them into features which promote key aspects of Lanark’s history. At least seven closes have been repainted and had new energy efficient light fittings installed.
The next step planned is to install panels explaining the history of each close including information about their names, you can read more about it here.
Six of these closes are featured on my drawing of the High Street, it’s up in full on my website here.
On the opposite side of the street, Wallace Close has been brought to life with artwork depicting key moments of Wallace’s life in Lanark. Perhaps that’s another street drawing for the future!
Prints and cards are available to buy through the Tolbooth Lanark, or from my website.
The more streets that I drew, the clearer I became on what it was all about. It’s simple and selfish – I only draw the streets that are meaningful to me in some way.
Sometimes it’s because some detail has caught my eye and sometimes streets link me to family and friends. This way I connect with each street and I get lost in the hours that sink into each drawing.
The other thing that is really important to me is that I draw them as architectural and social records. These are my surroundings as I find them now. The people on the drawings were there at the time, including the chap taking a breather from working in the Hope Cafe.
Each street is gradually added to my archive blog where I break the streets into individual buildings and add insights of history that I discover as I go along. It’s a slow but steady process but it really gives you an idea of what Drawing the Street is all about.
From time to time someone suggests a street for me to draw, including complete strangers! I always consider it because I might find it as interesting as they do and sometimes surprising connections unfold in the drawing of it.
Mount Parade, York was one such street. I was planning to draw the street nearby when a gentleman walked past me, stopped and asked whether I knew about the street just around the corner.
I must have cycled past the end of this street countless times going back and forth to town and had missed it all these years!
As my streets gathered pace I became a member of Staffordshire Artists Cooperative and displayed my work in Gallery at 12 where I later held a joint exhibition with the library to display all my local street scenes. Another exhibition followed on a few months later in Blossom Street Gallery in York.
The best part for me is discovering and acknowledging the people who lived in these places, the lives that have gone ahead of me. For instance, I discovered that Charles Hammersley set out from this house almost a century ago, only to be killed in France in WW1.
I haven’t mentioned how much urban sketching is part of the fabric of Drawing the Street – it’s where I meet people and really get the feel for a place.
In my next 3/3 post on this reflection of my fifty streets I will bring you up to date with my latest news up here in Scotland!
Drawing the Street turned six this summer. My thanks to all who have accompanied me from the beginning and to those who have followed along the way as something has caught their interest.
With my Newcastle work currently on display in the Brampton Museum and Gallery, I’ve been posting some of these drawings on social media to share it further afield. Having also just completed my 50th street drawn on over 60 metres of archival cotton paper, it seems timely to reflect on how this all began as a post-card sketch.
There’s a beautiful poem called ‘Fluent’ by the late John O’Donohue from his book Conamara Blues. I’ve never forgotten his words:
‘I would love to live Like a river flows, Carried by the surprise Of its own unfolding.’
When I sketched the former Ironmarket post office on to a post card, I had no idea what would unfold. It turns out that I was sowing the seed for an archive of streets, all meaningful to me in some way. This is part one of three posts about this story.
Ironically, it was the limitations of a post card that prompted me to think about a full-length drawing of the Ironmarket. This all took place whilst attending drawing classes run by Staffordshire artist David Brammeld. When considering how long to make the drawing, David’s advice was: “Don’t limit yourself!” Shortly after, our son asked me what I would like for Christmas. I suggested a large sheet of paper and received a 10 x 1.2 metre roll! There was no going back.
I gave no thought as to where this would lead but concentrated on representing the Ironmarket in a way that could be read in future. During my time as a conservation architect, I had always been grateful for old drawings of buildings that showed details which would inform my work. I knew that by drawing a street as a whole, individual buildings could be read in context, such as the shops standing on narrow burgess plots.
The Ironmarket retains a lot of its fine structure and is rich in stories if we pause a moment to look. Drawing is that pause. I choose which parts of my view I want to record – in a way that I hope is also good to look at.
Each drawing starts with a preparatory sketch where I map out the entire street as accurately as I can whilst still keeping it a freehand drawing. I’m always looking at ways to improve my work, whether learning about colour harmonies, shading, light, tone etc but always retaining that close reference to drawing what is there.
This first drawing ignited a great discussion on how the street had changed during living memory and prompted me to draw further streets around the town centre. I held my first exhibition in the library and Drawing the Street was born.
Drawing the Street is a growing entity; it has become more than just sketches of streets. It now contains many memories, some poignant, some funny. As the streets grow, so does my drawing style, evolving to include the things that I see as important – the people that belong to the street, the shops and businesses there at the time, the little details of life such as spotting my old work mates from the roofing contractor Miller Heritage working on the renovation of Mellard’s Warehouse – drawn below.
Although most of my streets are in conservation areas, I like to include the modern infrastructure. These too are part of our surroundings and tell their own story.
As the streets progressed, I stepped up my work on to archival quality cotton paper and redrew the Ironmarket at a slightly smaller scale than the first 2.7m drawing and entered it into the local open art exhibition. It was voted favourite by the Friends of the Borough Museum and awarded third prize – an honour and a great boost to continue. A few years later, the Friends bought my entire collection!
Thanks again for joining me and for reading this far. The streets belong to us all!
I have a big trip quietly planned for Friday 13th September. A lot of time in the car, train and taxi to spend a couple of hours at the Brampton Museum, Newcastle-under-Lyme, but I’m thrilled that my work is to be included in an exhibition ‘Capturing the Past‘ held by the Museum from 14th Sept to 3rd Nov 2019.
The exhibition invites us to: ‘take a trip down memory lane and see our town through the eyes of local artists and photographers. Nothing ever stays the same – our world is constantly changing’. The selection has been taken from the museum’s vast archive of local history and it is a great honour that my work has been included to display.
The Friends of the Brampton bought the entire collection of my original Newcastle-under-Lyme street drawings before I left for Scotland and they are hosting a preview at the Museum on Friday from 2pm.
I was really pleased that the collection stayed together in their birthplace. Six years on, the drawings will reveal how things have changed in the interim.
My drawings focus on streets as a whole rather than just an assortment of buildings enabling the viewer to see them from a wider perspective; how one building relates to another and how the loss of one building affects its neighbours. I created them as a social and historical archive so I am very happy they were retained as a collection for public record in Newcastle. They can be read and interpreted in years to come.
Time now for some new work hot off the press! To celebrate this great moment for me – just over six years since Drawing the Street set out, I have sketched three more buildings of the town, including the much loved Brampton Museum itself at the top of this post.
The street layout at the heart of Newcastle is medieval and I’ve always loved the view from the end of the High Street looking down towards the pinnacles, gables and tower of St Giles’ church.
Looking down at street level, we see a few signs directing us down through the arch, along the very narrow Pepper Street.
I had to include a reference to Cassie and Francesco at Amore Italian restaurant, Pepper Street, where my work was on display for several years.
The third sketch is another feature of the High Street – the Guildhall.
These sketches will all be available to buy at the Brampton as greetings cards and also as signed prints set in A4 mounts at £20 each. There aren’t many as I am only taking as many as I can carry…
To see the full collection of my Newcastle drawings please visit my website Drawing the Street.
I’ve just completed my ninth Eccleshall street drawing. There are more streets to draw (Gaol Butts, Castle Street and Small Lane) but I’m happy that I’ve drawn enough to share on the walls of Eccleshall Library and Gallery at 12 in my forthcoming twin exhibitions this November.
Why on earth did I opt for Drawing the Street ‘Together’ in the same town? Well, as a member of Staffordshire Artists Cooperative, we take it in turn for a monthly exhibition upstairs in Gallery at 12. After two years, my first turn is this November!
Having drawn a few streets elsewhere in Staffordshire, I decided to hire the exhibition area in Eccleshall library, a few doors along where I will display my Eccleshall drawings. Gallery at 12 will hold my Staffordshire drawings. These venues are only a few doors apart as you can see below.
To bring you up to date with the most recent drawing, it starts from Kru and extends to the 1960’s sheltered housing ‘John Pershall Court’ on the High Street. You can see it in full here.
This drawing includes three fellow artists from Staffordshire Artists Cooperative: Jo Hill, Jo Hearn and Helen Cartlidge and her dog Tatty, the latter who live on this part of the street.
Helen and I are October birthday buddies – sharing the same date of birth but there has been no let up for either of us this year! As soon as the prints are ready, they are round to Helen for framing. Thanks Helen.
Local historian Jan Baker has kindly given me some insights into some of the more hidden features of the town such as the listed milestone, tucked discreetly behind a planter. Jan is featured walking past – a tribute to her with my thanks.
I would love to invite you to come and visit this lovely rural town and to see the exhibitions. They are up between 1-30 November. Limited edition prints are all available to buy after the exhibition or order sooner as unframed prints.
With most mobile smart phones, it’s straightforward enough to take a great photo, crop and edit it and post on line. Here’s an example from a few years ago, when I began with indoor sketching, the softies option. I took this pic with my camera and although it looks ok, it doesn’t really engage the viewer with the content of the sketch.
I’m sure that most people can do a much better job than this with their phones and the wide range of editing tools available but over the last few years, I’ve found I get a fresher and more consistent image by scanning the sketch.
I keep a record of most of my sketches and file them by date and location. I scan them as a jpeg at a medium resolution (300dpi), on a six year old Canon MG5250 scanner/printer.
When I place the sketch book on the scanner, I press the lid down to flatten the spine so as to get an even scan up to the binding otherwise the edges are blurred. This works up to within 1cm of the spine and it’s worth bearing in mind to keep any penwork away from the spine when sketching. Pressing down also helps flatten bumpy page surfaces.
Here’s the unedited scan of the sketch. You can see the blurred lettering where the spine can’t quite lie flat.
The next thing to do is to crop the image and get rid of any unwanted parts in Photoshop or Microsoft Picture Editor.
I’ve cropped the image below but the lettering still looks fuzzy so I opted to lose it for the shared image and cropped it again.
There are lots of tools for colour corrections but I often end up using the ‘auto-correct’ tools to enhance contrast which lifts the mist from the image.
I add my web address in the image as a reference so when it sails off into the ethers, it retains a reference to my website. I prefer to keep the web address fairly discreet so as not to distract from the sketch. I also save the image at a lower resolution so it looks fine on screen but isn’t sharp enough to print.
This is a simplified description of my editing and like all these things, I could go into it in more detail, so any questions, just ask. That said – I may not know the answer!
I have all my street drawings scanned, colour corrected and printed professionally by Smith York Fine Art Printers as it gets quite complex.
Although this process takes up a bit of time, it’s an organised way to keep your sketches so you can find them easily and it’s also a record in case your sketchbook gets drenched in rain or coffee or your cat decides to help out…
Having a sketch book means waiting for anything is a pleasure, especially somewhere like Stoke Station where there are plenty of subjects to draw. This letterbox on Platform One caught my eye, marked with the initials GR, for George VI (reigned 1936 to 1952). The evening sunlight was pouring all over it and it was so bright, it looked gilded in places.
Thanks to @Rhomany for recommending Holbein Watercolours and the juicy Vermillion Hue, this is a proper letterbox red!
On the opposite side of the station stands the North Stafford Hotel , built in 1847, and listed grade 2*, with its grand Dutch gables and rows of chimney pots.
These sketches are tiny – drawn in a palm sized pocket sketch book – one of the ‘Perfect Sketchbooks‘ made up by Erwin Lian. The paper is lovely to draw on and means that is is easy to zoom on an a detail and draw something like a chimney stack, or a chap with his phone and coffee.
There were a few trips down south last month so a few London sketches will follow soon.
Signing off with the best thing to follow a run of townie sessions: a day out cycling on the Welsh coast!
Thought I would share a few pics of the couple of days spent sketching another stretch of the Holloway Road. This time I brought along a length of cartridge paper which I had prepared at home with a wash of gum arabic and French and English Ochre pigments, to give the paper a bit of warmth.
Note the colourful tote bag by the French American artist Gwenn Seemel – I admire her outlook on copyright as well as her colourful artwork.
I’d packed half a dozen clothes pegs to clip the paper to a folder which seemed to work quite well. Even though it’s non-stop busy along this road, several people stopped to pass the time of day with me and thanks to Sean for taking this photo and sending it to me.
The drawing is now complete, scanned and can be seen in full on my website. Limited edition prints are now available to buy.
I did a double take when I walked past York Street, Leek this summer. The most ordinary row of terraced houses transformed by the green-fingered, creative occupants into a shared garden enjoyed by inhabitants and passers-by alike. What a generous attitude!
It’s been a while since I’ve drawn a residential street, the last one was Well Street in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Looking back, I seem to be getting a bit more colourful!