Monday, 11 May 2015

Happy Times, Warmer Climes


I'm into my fifth week of tutoring six Tuesday evening sketching workshops in at Alston Hall in Lancashire. It's a rambling Victorian Gothic house and we look out of the studio, through arched windows and across fields dotted with sheep and lambs, to the tree-line of the River Ribble.
This loveliest of settings makes me look forward to my week at Chateau L'Age Baston, another grand house with lovely views from an elevated position. Here, though, I'll be looking towards the Dordogne, over countryside punctuated by terracotta-roofed houses and rimmed by blue distant hills.

I've drawn the ironing board and the washing line, but there's the dovecote and the courtyard with its bright umbrellas, worn stone steps, pretty gates and doorways, drystone walls and deep dark woods studded with wild cyclamen.

If that isn't enough, pet donkeys and sheep roam within the shake of a paintbrush and the breeze ripples, Hockneyesque, the swimming pool's sunlit surface.
In nearby towns, there are markets, bars and riverside chateaux. 

                                                   Piegut-Pluviers, the Market and the Bar

Fellow guests, too, are often happy to sit for a portrait, well, once at least!
                                    Don, drawing in the Studio
 I'll be encouraging students to get lively and loose and to respond to different subject matter in different ways, with different materials. We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain from a week in such an idyllic retreat!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Packing Paints and Brushes

I've been asked to give several workshops this year, both at home and abroad, all of them in the loveliest of venues!

Before my exhibition at the Whitaker-Rossendale Museum and Art Gallery ends on the 22nd February, I'll be giving a half-term workshop for children, having fun using collage and line.

The Whitaker, Rawtenstall

And we plan a sketching afternoon for adults around the same time.

Also at The Whitaker, when the days get longer we'll see a return of last year's popular evening sketching sessions. With a free glass of wine for those who need some false courage!

Alston Hall, Longridge

Further to the North-West, the stunning Victorian Alston Hall in the Ribble Valley is the venue for different courses.

Tuesday evenings through April and May there'll be sketching workshops in the Gothic house and grounds, including an Urban Sketching session in the bright lights of nearby Longridge!

On the 13th June I'll be hosting a whole day's sketching at the Hall.

And! there's a whole week's residential art course from August 10th, which gives the opportunity to learn new skills and be immersed in all things artistic from morning to night, inspired by our surroundings and the world in general!

Chateau L'Age Baston

 For those who love la Belle France, I'm at beautiful Chateau L'age Baston in Poitou - Charentes for a week starting on the 27th June.

Outside the Studio

I've given workshops here for several years and love the house, the food (candlelit dinners in tapestried dining room or in the courtyard!), the beautiful dovecote, and the studio space

It's surrounded by gardens, cyclamen-strewn woods, and there are distant views towards the Dordogne.

I nearly forgot the pool, the heated pool, mustn't forget the pool.

I'm hoping you'll be inspired to join me- let's meet somewhere, sometime!

You can keep in touch with what I'm up to on my Facebook page (Caroline Johnson, Fine Artist and Urban Sketcher)

Watch this space for more detail, and go to individual websites for further information.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Bonjour La Bretagne!

                                           Motorway travel, views from a jam

This year's Urban Sketchers symposium is as I write taking place in Paraty- a Portuguese colonial seaside town in Brazil prone to flooding. But while the participants were packing flip-flops for this annual gathering, I was heading with Mr. Price for the tranquil shores of Brittany.
From the north of England, with the motorways jammed with traffic, it's a slow journey down to the south coast and the ferries.

The boat's jam-packed, too! We have no overnight cabin and as I lie bruising myself on the floor under a table I'm close to weeping (or homicide) at one-o-clock in the morning, as I listen to a selfish mother nearby, raucously singing 'Row, row, row your boat” with her child. Well, thank you! Charming and touching though the scene might be in daylight hours, I don't think it's really on when everyone's trying to get some rest ...

                                                  The little barn, washing and roof-mending

Our house has survived since Spring, although the familiar dead-mouse-under-the-floorboards smell greets us and stays around for a few days. Over the years we've learned you just have to sit it out, helped along by incense and air-fresheners.
A box of clothes has been nibbled by the wee pests, too. I buy horrid mouse-traps, but Mr.Price 'forgets' to ever set them while we're over.


The garden's run rampage as well, with little plum trees everywhere. There's a wren's nest built in a hank of rope on the back wall of the lean-to. The little bird has flown, but inside are empty eggshells and just one lonely infertile egg, tiny and white, translucent and almost weightless in the hand. We need the rope for cutting down a big branch, though, so I carefully remove the small dwelling to keep in a box, perhaps to draw at a later date.

Some of the family are with us, and the younger grandson is quite eager to help us and his Mum and Dad clear the garden. The other, older and aware that his hairstyle and cool need preserving. is less naively enthusiastic and chooses to wander around foppishly, documenting the work of others on his camera.

They're at the beach most days, however- and we, too, manage to escape the relentless gardening for an afternoon swim at the lovely Pen-guen beach. The seawater stings my bramble-scratched arms and that cliff-path gets steeper every year, but it's a good pain!

The house is up for sale, so every visit might be almost the last, who knows?                                               

And in an act of blatant self-publicity (contact me, though), here's a link:

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

In England's Green and Pleasant?

 Compared to rural Brittany where we last lived, what a  very crowded island this is! House prices are prohibitively high and building land is at a premium.

For a couple of years now I've looked out of the kitchen window to see, across the road, a large stretch of grass edged in the distance by mature trees. Some days, a duck would take the sun here with her ducklings, and at night cats would prowl. "How lovely", thought I naively, "of them to leave such a pretty patch of green between the houses!"

Ignorance is often bliss, and in March the first bulldozers arrive to tear up the grass and uproot bushes into an undignified heap.

 Permission for 'one bedroom flats and two bungalows' has been given and over the following weeks I witness the noisy machinery of the ground- clearing stages of construction replaced by cement deliveries.

Then come the more hands-on outside tasks of brick-laying and roofing. Now I can hear the builders calling to each other (and to young lady passers-by) and sometimes singing.

I've learnt a bit, if I'm ever called upon to build a house, fat chance! but my view's gradually disappearing. It's as though the trees are slowly drowning in a relentless tide of bricks. Today I see them from the upper windows, but not the kitchen.

However, I'm always ready to turn the negative to my advantage. It's not often that such a sketching opportunity presents itself, without even having to leave the house and I set about recording the sad process. I'm taking hundreds of photos for a stop-frame animation (I'll have to call on my technician!) and of course I'm drawing the scene as it unfolds before me.

I can't wait to draw the new neighbours... perhaps!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Into The Valley, Rossendale.

                                           Mill Chimney with Distant Fells, Rossendale.

 For some time now I've been involved with The Whitaker Museum and Art Gallery in Rawtenstall, to the North of Manchester.
  And in case you didn't already know, this post-industrial area is known as The Rossendale Valley, characterised by the steep sided valley of the River Irwell and its tributaries which cut through the high moorland of the Rossendale Hills. In the valley bottom, urban settlements grew up
at river crossing points between Rawtenstall and Bacup.
                                        Millworkers clogs, Whitaker Museum

Textile mills and chimneys and gritstone terraced houses are the dominant buildings and roads are concentrated in the narrow valley. There's a striking contrast between the forbidding mill towns and the sunlit heights which form their backdrop.
  We have such a wealth of subject matter for the sketching workshops I'm giving at the museum (Thursday evenings, with wine, other beverages available!) and for The Big Draw, which
took place late last year..

The museum's in a Victorian mansion with lovely views over the surrounding park and town, towards the fells. Inside, there's an eclectic collection of objects, including stuffed animals- some quite frightening- and birds, and an excellent café.

                                                    Various objects, Whitaker Museum 


Everything you could ever need for a few hours spent happily sketching or not, and with refreshments to hand!

 Cakes at the Whitaker

Monday, 17 March 2014

The BBC Philharmonic

I was pleased to have the opportunity to sketch this orchestra over a couple of days.
Their publicity department had used my picture of Ordsall Hall, where they're playing this very week, so I made a deal to sit in on rehearsals. 
They're based in Media City UK on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal in Salford.
The BBC's move marked a large-scale decentralisation from London, and the North of England has profited from this. From the top floor of the building we could just about see Coronation Street's factory wall- what a thrill!
It took at least the first morning's drawing to feel comfortable, and to have some sense of the direction or focus my work might take. Because this was a rehearsal, the music would start and then suddenly stop and the conductor would gently encourage the musicians in a mixture of English and Italian. This was a bit distracting at first, and the longer pieces of music encouraged inspiration and a better flow to the pencil.

The musicians were a nice bunch, interested in what we were doing, as we were in them- we're all artists, aren't we?!

I used my sketches in the studio later, along with photographs, to produce a larger work, below.

 BBC Philharmonic, Studio Drawing 44cm x 122cm
This is one of the traditional uses of the sketchbook.. as Fine Art students we were we were encouraged to use them for various purposes: as preliminary drawings prior to painting; to explore new ideas, thus developing creativity; as visual diaries of the external world and as drawing practise, and to re-visit as source material for inspiration.
Our books were untidy, experimental, fearless and anarchic.
I'd like to get back to that level of 'insouciance' -it's so easy to blinker oneself by worrying about a good result on the page to be shown to others, rather than opening up to new approaches and unfamiliar materials.
Let's not be hampered by the fear of failure!

Friday, 24 January 2014

The Liverpool Scene

Steble Fountain and Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Being born during one of the worst winters on record doesn't bode well for birthday outings, but on a sunny day this week we caught the train to Liverpool.
It's often cool and breezy in this city by the River Mersey.  And it's bright, airy and spacious by comparison to our usual Manchester.. the light's so different here, and quite beautiful.

There's a lovely view from The Walker Gallery on William Brown Street. In the foreground is the Steble Fountain:
" The casting from which the fountain was derived had originally been designed for the Paris Exposition of 1867. At the opening ceremony in 1879 the mayor turned the fountain on with a silver key presented by Steble, but the water pressure was low and the effect was "dismal"."
 I expect it was more impressive than today, though, when there's not a drop of water in sight!

The Beatles at Liverpool Empire Theatre, December 7th 1963

Across the square towards Lime Street station is the Empire Theatre with its imposing neo-classical facade in Portland stone.
"In 1957 a local pop group called The Quarrymen appeared at the Empire Theatre. They returned in 1959, having changed their name to "Johnny and the Moondogs". They returned to the Empire again in 1962, now named The Beatles."

Crowds gathered in this square after the death of Gladstone, Queen Victoria and the assassination of John Lennon.

A Corinthian Column, Walker Gallery, Liverpool
It's too chilly to spend much time sketching the view before we head inside the gallery to see the David Hockney exhibition, so I finish my picture the next day in the warmth of the studio. I don't see this as cheating but as a sensible choice. Yes, I could sit on the gallery steps and risk frostbite or, worse, certain painful conditions involving internal organs, referred to discreetly as 'Trouble Down There'... but that would be stupid of me, especially a I'm a whole year older this week!