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!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

"Glastonbury With Dinner Ladies"

Way back in my last blog, I was sketching in the dark at The Soup Kitchen in Manchester.
What I didn't mention was that Mr. Price and I met two lovely ladies there who invited us to run a 'Little Urban Sketchers' workshop and to be official 'war artists' for Cavfest.
This is a family-friendly one-day rock festival run by the forward thinking Cavendish Primary school in Didsbury, Manchester.


As the day dawns, they've sold out of their 2,000 tickets, but when we arrive in the quiet of late morning, organisers and volunteers are peacefully setting up on the playing field.

However.. by three, the craft tent is a madness of parents and kids. Our little stall is set up to encourage youngsters to pick up pen and paper (supplied) and go out and draw a list of subjects.

It's a quiet start for us, other activities such as face-painting and drum workshops have more immediate appeal. And we're next to to the immensely popular Make Me A Monster workshop which threatens to push us out of our corner, with its ever-advancing army of still-wet, painted-box monster heads.
Look at my bloody jeans!” says Mr Price a couple of days later, showing me where he's caught his legs on some particularly lurid shades..



We take it in turns to oversee our budding artists or to go out sketching.
The sun's shining when I selfishly overstay my sketching time to draw Emma from Throwing Pandas and The Cornelius Crane, leaving Mr Price to the increasing volume in the tent.

I'm delighted to see children sat in front of the stage who are actually sketching! So it HAS worked!


Later on we're able to go out together and sketch the crowds and lean on the barrier in front of the bands. What a lot of babies and children there are- I feel quite unfashionable in my sproglessness, but liberated at the same time.



Evening falls with a light drizzle. Badly Drawn Boy is headlining, and we DO draw him, and his hat. “ I reckon he got a job lot thirteen years ago and feels he has to wear 'em all out” observes Mr Price.


At half past ten the evening isn't over yet as we've been given tickets for free after-festival drinks at a local tennis and bowling club. It's difficult to find and 'someone' has to refuel at a chippy on the way. Kindly locals try to give us directions and a nice young couple even lead us through the dark suburban streets lined with trees and Victorian villas.
There's the club, down a drive and, outside and in, it's a lovely old building dating from 1874. The organisers and volunteers are there, they're really pleased at what we achieved with the children and with our day's sketches, too.
And in an ever so humble and self-effacing way, so are we.
 A big thank you to everyone for an excellent day! 

Monday, 8 July 2013

Rock On

    The Minx, The Soup Kitchen, Manchester
 I've been out sketching regularly with two different groups and I've noticed that not a lot of figure drawing goes on. Probably because the human form is the most difficult of subject matter and can ruin a precious sketchbook if we fail (I just stick some paper on top).
But- and this is especially for the urban sketchers among us- our towns and cities wouldn't exist without 'people to people them'.
To redress any imbalance in my own work, I've worn sackcloth and ashes and beat myself with a bunch of nettles, by choosing to sketch at music gigs.
The first's at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds on a Thursday After a wait in the bar, noting down the colourful local language in my book....

I'm well served in the venue itself by having a view from a raised area, with chair and a shelf in front of me for materials. I've forgotten my small water jar, but the dregs of my beer make a good substitute.
 

       Leeds 6 All-Stars
When the lights go down I can see very little of my sketchbook, but realise it's a ready-made excuse for any failure. And this freedom produces a lively set of drawings which I mightn't have otherwise achieved.

    The Three Johns
..Saturday and we're on to the next gig- at The Soup Kitchen in Manchester. The venue's in a dank, dark basement hung with wires and pipes. There's just one table and two chairs in the place and when the bands come on, I'm too small to see anything, even stood up so I stand on a chair with my back to the wall to draw in fountain pen, adding wash and colour at the table after.
Next time I'll ask for a seat at the side of the stage.
     The Gull Wings
Thursday again, and we're at the Miners Community Arts and Music Centre, Moston, Manchester, where there's a benefit gig to help pay for heating to be installed. I meet the affable Stuart Maconie who's there with other folk from Salford's Media City. 

By the dance floor. Moston
It's a bit dark for it, but with a seat in the second row and an easy view I draw singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop. What a nice lady, she wants to pose with my picture afterwards!
And what have I learned? To be less precious, to go with the flow of circumstances, to respond individually different subject matter, to stand (and sketch) in the gloom , on a chair, after a couple of beers.       















Wednesday, 1 May 2013

From Urban Sketch to Urban Paintings


    Salford Quays, Panorama

 The sketchbook has been traditionally regarded as a mere artist's tool, a starting  point for larger, longer real pieces, the finished paintings.
 I've long thought that it's unfair to judge the merit of a work on how long it took ... a laborious, dogged two years with a .01 brush and umpteen glazes, or  five minutes with pencil, joy and exuberance? What's worth more?

                         Here's Rubens' sketch of cows..

                       ..and here's one of his more 'worked' pieces. What happened to that left arm?

 A drawing reveals, too, a lot more about an artist than the 'greater' works- there's a lot more freshness, honesty and a disregard for painting's vagaries of fashion.
In fact, it's sometimes hard to tell exactly to which century a drawing might belong! Who's this long-haired hippy/hippie then? Answers on a postcard please, no prizes.




 I see the sketchbook as a delightful record and an unique insight into an artist's interests and character.
So..I've included my own books in my exhibition at Salford Museum and Art Gallery and, in their little display cabinets, they give life and warmth to a roomful of formal, framed, wall-hung work. The earliest dates from 1952!


There are over fifty works in the exhibition-  I was surprised and pleased that what I'd achieved fitted nicely in the gallery space. It was as though I'd planned it, and I'd never lain awake in the nights, listening to my heartbeats,  fretting about having enough to fill the huge room!


Despite blizzards on the opening night over a hundred souls braved the elements. I don't know how many got home.
 Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking' at such events... I didn't, and left the job up to the excellent Ann Bukantas, who is not only Head of Art at National Museums, Liverpool, but also a kindly friend.


                                         Ann Bukantas with Alastair Price

Many thanks to my sponsors, to all those who helped with the show and encouraged me along, and to those who supplied food for the opening- on the way out I was told it was delicious.
  Mmm! That sustaining glass of wine and two crisps certainly helped  on the 26 mile, snowbound, home-bound journey!

 Caroline Johnson, Manchester and Rennes.