I love to receive a card in the post. I think that a beautiful card sent through the post still represents great value and I have a couple of drawers full of my favourites that I’ve kept over the years.
With this in mind, I decided to make a set of high resolution cards of six of my Newcastle-under-Lyme drawings. You can see them all below.
There is just the one set available in my Etsy shop. Please do have a look!
They are a standard 5 x 7 inch size and would look great popped into a frame!
I thought it was time to share a look behind the scenes at my drawings of Front Street, Acomb, York – the village where I grew up. Let’s dive into my studio to take a closer look at this first drawing of Front Street, from Nos 93-105.
I start by roughing out the street in pencil then transcribing the outline onto a long sheet of heavy watercolour paper. I’ve always used Fabriano 300gsm acid free 100% archival cotton paper. It has a lovely rough texture. I use a flexible mapping pen nib which gives a variety of line thickness and the paper is sturdy enough to take the paint. It’s also strudy enough to handle a reclining cat!
Josh often lies out beside me as I work – he has done this ever since we first collected him from the North Staffs RSCPA in 2016.
We were told by the RSPCA to be patient as he was terrified of people and it might take him months to come round. That was fine by us, so we brought him home and left him to settle a few metres from my work table.
It was only a matter of days before Josh had to find out what was taking all my attention. I was engrossed in drawing the first of my Eccleshall streets and he couldn’t resist climbing up to see what was going on. Pencils, pens, erasors – all targets for paws. It was our first point of connection and six years on he still jumps up here to greet me.
I’ve always covered most of the drawing apart from where I’m working; newsprint paper protects it from most splashes and spills and I only move it out of the way to photograph. It’s been a handy working practice!
I’ve used a light fast permanent ink here in Sepia (rather than black or Payne’s Grey) as a warmer base colour to complement the rich red ochres of the brickwork. Front Street is full of soft red brick buildings and red terracotta roof tiles; I use earth pigments for these.
Front Street is in Acomb’s conservation area. Acomb has a stong sense of place and history and you can read ten curious facts about it in a clever blog by the cat crime fiction writer James Barrie. Yes, I did say ‘cat’ crime…
As soon as the street is complete, I wrap it in glassine paper and store in a 30cm diameter carboard tube out of harms way until I can scan it and arrange for prints.
I released the first set of limited edition giclee prints a few weeks ago and they sold very quickly! The next set are listed in my Etsy Shop and already one of these has sold. I’m only releasing a small print run of the Acomb drawings: 30 prints at 60cm long and 10 prints at 90cm. If you would like to order one – please get in touch.
Acomb Library is also stocking some of my greetings cards – a few examples below.
Broom grows outside my kitchen window here in Scotland – I love the intense yellow after the greys of winter. Broom links me to my next drawing in my red ochre series: the Brampton Museum in Newcastle-under-Lyme. The name Brampton means ‘place where broom grew’ – I wonder if any still grows in the park?
The Museum is located just outside Newcastle-under-Lyme’s town centre in Brampton Park, surrounded by mature trees and shrubs.
Long before this became a park, this was common land grazed and cultivated by the town burgesses. Eventually, the field was sold and Victorian villas were built – including ‘The Firs’ in 1855 and ‘Pitfield House’. The gardens of these Villas now make up the present park. You can read more about the history of the park here.
Twenty one years after ‘The Firs’ was built, Newcastle’s first museum was born just off the Ironmarket in Lad Lane. This consisted of a public library, a reading room and museum.
It was during the early years of WW2 that the Borough Museum was founded in the Lancaster Buildings. Eventually it moved to its current location in Brampton Park. You can read more about the history here – written by Neville Malkin, 9th June 1976.
Here’s the drawing in full. You can see the rest of my red ochre series of Newcastle-under-Lyme on my website Drawing the Street or browse my Etsy shop where the originals are for sale (available to buy at the time of writing).
The second drawing of the Brampton shows the side towards Pitfield House, with some of the garden and more of the wonderful roofscape.
I’ll sign off with a picture from the 2019 exhibition at the Brampton ‘Capturing the Past’. I was delighted that my collection of street drawings were included in the exhibition – they’ve been part of the Museum archive since 2018.
Newcastle town centre is alive with markets! Back in the 13th century, there was only the one market day but now markets are held 6 days a week with an additional one held monthly on a Sunday.
This is the second of six new red ochre sketches of Newcastle-under-Lyme town centre – the full set can be seen on my website Drawing the Street.
The history of the markets is ancient. There’s an in-depth write up on the town’s history on the British History website: there is evidence that a market was held in Newcastle-under-Lyme as far back as 1203 when the market day was changed from Sunday to Saturday, for which the burgesses had to pay a fine to the king. I bet the good folk of ‘Castle didn’t go much on that.
It’s possible that the market day remained unchanged until 1590 when under Elizabeth I’s charter, market day was declared to be Monday and it remained so until the beginning of the 19th century when an additional Saturday was added to meet a larger population.
Here’s the drawing in full.
Let’s take a few steps to the left and look at the market cross from a different angle. The market cross was located further up the street in medieval times, opposite the Ironmarket.
It required some restoration work in the mid-1500s when it’s thought that the five steps were built. Later, in the early 1800s it was moved to the present location when the lamps were added.
The finished original drawings are set in standard 10 x 12 inch mounts ready to frame and now listed with full description in my Etsy shop.
If you’re looking for a print instead – please get in touch.
My ‘handbag sketchbook’ has been dormant for a while. It’s a hand-sized book which I normally sketch in when out and about but over the last year or so, trips out have been straight to the point and home again.
I realised how much I had missed capturing some of the day-to-day aspects of life when I was waiting for my second Covid jab. This chap was ahead of me in the fast moving queue at Ravenscraig Sports Centre and it struck me that I should get the moment down even if it was just a few lines.
I was surprised at how l had fallen out of the habit of these short sketches – I’ve been drawing and painting plenty of other things (more on this another time) but these sketches are my visual diary. Life goes past so quickly that I sometime wonder what I was doing last week and these capture the moments when I pause.
These sketches are for me – I don’t mind how haphazard they are as long as I sketch something of the moment. I had added a wash of yellow ochre on one of the pages – it’s a simple but effective background to liven up a few hasty lines.
A ten minute wait for a routine vet visit was a great opportunity to sketch the profile of the church at Lesmahagow.
Here’s my first café sketch in over a year – looking up to the shelf where there was a line up of colourful Edinburgh Gin bottles.
A visit at last to see my sister in York for her birthday. She placed these beautiful lily-of -the valley flowers in a vase that came from Kerry, the part of Ireland that my mother came from.
In-person classes have resumed at Paintbox – the Art School by the Sea – over in Cockenzie. You can catch the feel of a place in just a few lines – enough to remind you of the day.
If I arrive at Cockenzie a little earlier than class starts, I have a coffee from my flask and sketch the view from the car.
The perspective is skew-whiff on this one below but I loved the crow-step gables against the red roof and bright blue sky.
I’ve been over to Cockenzie many times but not stayed to have a look further up the coast so we set Midsummer’s Day aside to go out to Bass Rock. Another few minutes waiting our turn to board the boat and I sketched what was in front of me.
Bass Rock is spectacular! Located just off the coast of North Berwick, it’s high-rise accommodation for 150,000+ gannets! We had booked on an hour trip which took us right up to the side of the rock where we got a great view of the birds and their young chicks.
The only way to pick up where you left off is to turn the page and pick up a pen.
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!