Thursday 31 May 2012

...circular and wizards...

Many thanks to all who took part in this weeks Hilgay Art Group.
Great to see old and new faces - even though we're only into our 2nd meeting.
I'm pleased to say we had three still lifes/lives  to choose from this time - or draw all three! (I know I struggled with the circular saw...) as well as additional art and reference books available to work from. 
Unlike our first meeting we didn't need the heaters on this time, and worked with the fire doors open - and it was still pretty hot. 

I couldn't help but think that the HAG first meeting reminded me of a library - a lot of concentration and silence. This week with the help of 'The Classical Experience', Norah Jones and the King's of Leon we had a less quiet and more sociable evening - but still plenty of concentration. 
I'll be taking requests... 
Thanks to Vivien and Anne - first for half time oranges, and secondly for bringing a fine art painterly edge to what has 'so far' been a drawing group. 
The more variety the better - I know I've got plenty to learn - I might need to ask Ann for some tips. circular saw is a little rusty, and so is my sketch...

Look forward to seeing you all on Monday the 11th June. 
Also please let me know if you have any suggestions or themes for the art group. 
For those of you who haven't been able to make it yet - when you're ready - take two hours off and come along and give us a try. 
Keep drawing.

...mack - scratch - toffee - or "... trouble at Mill..."

...OR...'How helping out with the Hilgay School mural 2011 got me in a flap?...
Mark and Sarah visited my stall at the St Edmunds Christmas craft fair at Downham Market's town Hall. I hand coloured snow scenes onto a couple of my pen & ink Denver Mill cards for them, which they duly collected at the end of the day. 
They lived in Denver beneath the sails of the only working mill in Norfolk, and enquired whether I would draw their home for them - the appropriately named 'Mill Cottage'. 
It sounded good to me - 'Let me know when you're ready ' I replied. 
The call came - as it were - in August. At the site meeting we looked at the cottage from all four winds before agreeing the view. Their pets Mack, Scratch and Toffee were also to appear in the drawing. 
The medium would be pen & ink in full Winsor & Newton Watersurroundcolour! OK this is going to be good, no problem. 
My preferred working size is A3 (approx 17" x 12"). 
'Bigger would be better', they said. OK, A2 - twice up - is good for me. 
They showed me where the finished article would be hung, and no, it wasn't what they were looking for. 
'Not good for us, can you go bigger?' Well y'know, I think I can. I'd recently helped Hilgay School's Year 6 students paint a mural two metres square, so yeah, sure I'm sure I can go bigger... 
'What's the biggest you can go to?' - The biggest size the paper mill has. 
- 2' high by 3' wide - no problem.

Sarah and Mark's Mill Cottage, Denver - pen & ink and watercolour, and blood, sweat and tears

By the time Knots, my local timber shop, cut an over sized ply drawing board for me - the lighter the better - the soon to be all drawing, all sizeing watercolour paper had arrived.
Ready to roll!
I sat opposite Mill Cottage pencil in hand, facing a huge blank surface like some white monolith, Denver Mill itself at my back. Though with storm damaged north and south sails - the higher sail hanging over the lower sail - it was no longer a working windmill... 
The best thing to do with an empty surface is to make a mark on it.  
Once this is done the following strokes are easier to apply, and then before you know it you've imbued the flat paper with a third dimension. You can place things in the foreground, the middle ground and the background. Shapes can be overlapped and perspective can be achieved. 
Of course I wasn't able to do this until I'd scrapped my first attempt - too close to the subject - and pulled back for a broader view on a second blank piece of paper which allowed me to wholly include the apple tree to the left and the plum tree to the right. 
A couple of visits later I'd completed as much pencil drawing as was required at this point. Sarah informed that they had decided against including their two cats Scratch and Toffee, and Mack - their faithful dog in the picture. Normally I was happy to add the kitchen sink, but in this situation I was relieved.
It took me some time to come to grips with the inking stage. Despite being accustomed to going straight into previous (smaller) drawings directly with pen and ink and no pencil, I found myself somewhat intimidated by the size of this drawing - and me with just a little dip pen...
I set the drawing aside until I was ready to go. 
'Mill Cottage' - Denver - Pen & Ink

Some weeks later I brought 'Mill Cottage' out of the depths of my plan chest, took a deep breath, and started drawing the plum tree in ink - 'growing' upwards from the trunk to the highest leaf. Confidence renewed I worked from right to left - though always best to work from left to right to avoid the danger of smudging. 
I don't know how a clumsy guy like me has managed to produce a stack of black ink drawings without spilling more indelible Indian that I have. Still, best not to look an ink horse in the mouth.
I emailed Mark and Sarah a scan of the final inks and explained that the job was more challenging than expected, and apologized for the delay. They said this was not a problem and then said the worst thing - 
"No problem, whenever your ready is good for us". with an open deadline I promptly put the inked drawing back in the plan chest and got on with other work, while procrastinating over how to paint that big old 'Mill Cottage'.  
Some weeks later again, the answer dawned on me - build a better mouse trap, or in my case - buy a bigger brush! 
Working from photo reference again, I began to paint the preliminary colours which would become the foundation for additional layers to be applied, very slowly but surely. 
As I continued painting, the pen & ink drawing gradually emerged from it's black and white beginnings into a light, bright world of summer colour - first the old cottage with it's animated carrstone brick work and 21st century conservatory, followed by the leaves, shrubs and trees, weeping willow and crawling ivy. Finally fallen leaves, and fruit and flowers. 

'Mill Cottage' - First stage colours

Mark and Sarah were very pleased, and during our meeting we all agreed not to put in a significant sky, since there was an awful lot going on anyway. 
So I went back to the studio and put it away again... 
...and took it out again. 
Taking out my bigger brush and pot of cerulean blue, I began to lay down the first pale strokes of the sky. No features, no personality 'let it fade into the background' sky. As discussed. 
Only that's not quite what happened. 
Despite my good intentions, the brush seemed to know where it was going - and it was pretty much going wherever it wanted to go. 
So Mill Cottage had a sky after all. 
Which upon delivery of the finished article, we unanimously agreed was ideal and complemented the cottage and it's garden perfectly! 
As it happened, the Denver Mill was now entirely without sails - the remaining east and west sails had now also been removed. The mill stood there limbless in the rays of the setting sun.
Mark asked me if I would take on another large commission, I initially said probably not, but now that I know what to expect, all I can say is - no problem. 

Hilgay school contacted me the other day and asked if I were available to help the year 6 pupils paint this year's mural. Well, I've got eight students that are raring to go, and looking forward to supersizing their drawings. 
When can I start? 



Thursday 17 May 2012

- HAG - we came, we saw, we drew...

Hilgay Art Group flyer following 1st meeting!
Coming to a notice board near you...

Apologies for not getting in touch sooner but my bt broadband's been offline for a week (!??$), and email is just now up and running. 
I'm pleased to report that the first night for HAG - aka the Hilgay Art Group - was a big success. Lucky 13 in fact, with me being the thirteenth - or the first. More prospective members  than I expected, even though a few people who said they'd come along were unable to attend. 
I'd set up two still lifes - one simpler, the other more complicated, and asked people to tackle whichever they were most comfortable with. I gave advice and guidance here and there to whoever seemed to need it, and must praise the brave souls who turned up having never drawn before -  or not for a long time - and thought they would give it a go. Very well done!
Watering cans - pencil sketch. Not sure what happened to the
spout and handle of WC no. 2 - probably time for tea...

We stopped at half time - I didn't blow a whistle - but with kettle a'boiling took orders for tea or coffee (once a restaurateur, always a restaurateur), which I prepared with Nikki's able assistance! 
During the break members checked out various instructive and historical art books I had brought in, or alternatively sneaked a peek at a selection of my own comic art and illustration work - not to start a fan club or anything - hmmm -  just so that people who weren't familiar with it could see what I got up to. 
And is a 'fen & ink' fan club idea such a bad idea...?
Pencil sketch drawn at Bates Wood, Denver
...and yes - there will be wheelbarrows...
In the second half, members didn't so much change ends as adjust their point of view so that they could draw the other still life - painted white bottles or rustic watering cans. Or in Ryan's case animate a previously static wooden artist's mannequin into appropriately manic poses - phew! 
Thanks to one and all for clearing up and packing away the tables and chairs etc. while I hid in the kitchen and pretended to dispense artistic advice to a handful of members who thought I knew better than they. 
So a big thanks to you all again, especially Gerry and Arijs whose question "Would you like to set up an Art Group?" held little interest for me at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized what fun it might be - and it was! 
See you all next time - there'll be oranges...

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Tuesday 8 May 2012

...tractors, stationary engines and automobiles...

Owing to the constant rain - alternatively Norfolk farmers delight - this May's 37th Stradsett Park Vintage Rally had to be cancelled at the last minute. All aboard for a peek at last year's rally by the vicarious route of my sketch book and trusty dip pen... 
Massey - Harris 744D - Pen & Ink and Watercolour
 ...I turned up at the 36th Stradsett Rally armed with easel, chair and drawing board ready for business. Half an hour later I was back at the car - too many people. I exchanged my easel, chair and drawing board for my trusty pencil and sketch book.  
Setting up camp amongst the parked cars I was spoilt for choice. I first drew a Sixties Bubble car, then an old Morris Minor followed by a car that I admit I don’t know the name of - but it certainly looked like the older, bigger, cooler cousin to the moggy.   
No idea what this is - anybody? - Pencil sketch

Ok, so maybe I could have held out longer. 
The temperature was dropping - I abandoned my pencil and sketch pad for my digital camera. I do prefer to draw from life, but if this is not practical, photo reference is great - and sometimes the only way.  
I entered the three black and white pen & ink tractor drawings into the Downham Art Circle spring exhibition. I had planned to paint them but owing to time limitations - I done run out of it - I was happy to exhibit them as they were. 
Besides, I always love the dynamic tension of black on white!
Ferguson TE-D 20 - Pen & Ink

I had a craft stall at the Hilgay Vintage & Country Show last August, and gave my tractor cards and drawings pride of place. Although I had drawn the three tractors, I confessed I had no idea of their identity.  
I needn't have worried. It wasn't long before veteran tractor enthusiast - Ted - was busily describing their pedigree. Even going that extra country mile to point out that I had neglected to include the crankshaft hole at the front of the Ferguson TE-D 20.  
(Now that's a coincidence - Ted's name and the Fergie name, though I expect Ted - bless him, was more like a spritely 70...)

Stationary engine - Pencil sketch

I hastened to add that I had spotted the crank hole while painting the original and added it accordingly - Ted gave me a wry smile and looked unconvinced... 
I subsequently contacted those nice people at  Classic Massey & Ferguson enthusiast magazine, and editor Scott Lambert - always with an eye for good artwork - kindly included a review of both myself and my tractor illustrations. A tip of my hat to you Scott!
All in all a good day's work and pleasure at the Stradsett Rally - see you next year!

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Thursday 3 May 2012

...if it's raining, must be time for sunflowers...

Sunflowers - Sepia Pen & Ink and Watercolour
That's better... 
Can I get away with just a picture?

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Wednesday 2 May 2012 wash or not to wash, that is the question...

Denver Post Office and Stores - Pen & Ink line
When venturing out to neighbouring Denver village for my second easel appearance - I set up camp opposite the local post office stores, and began drawing without a safety net. 
I figured that I would be more likely to get the work finished in good time if I dispensed with the pencil sketching in stage, and went straight in with good old indelible Winsor & Newton Black Indian Ink!  
Excellent idea. 
It wasn't until I discarded the 1st and 2nd attempts that I began the finished article. The ink was barely dry on the front door and the canopy (and the first few courses of carrstone brickwork), when post office owner Joanne came over to see what I was up to. She offered to buy the original at such a time when it was completed. 
After that there seemed to be more pen & ink power to my drawing arm...
Denver Junction - french sepia line - no wash
While adding the finishing touches to the 'Post Office', local resident Jackie Winks asked whether I could produce a drawing of her Gatehouse home which, as it happened, sat on the single track Denver Junction railway line.
This sounded great. 
It wasn't until our site meeting when she asked me to include the original second track, her granduncle's steam train, her sons' as young boys on the opposite platform (and their dog), that I realised this would be less of a drawing and more an illustration. 
Now this was becoming a real challenge. 
Wheelbarrows at Bates Wood, Denver - Pen & Ink wash!
That said, instead of facing up the track, easel in hand - I found myself sitting in the studio facing a mac surrounded by old photographs, black and white pictures, and railway reference books. 
Jackie had also suggested I place her granddaughter behind the gate waving a handkerchief as the train approached. I don't quite recall where the cat came from, but I know that at the last minute I drew in the teddy bear.  
And, oh yes - from the beginning there was never any doubt whether to wash or not.

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Tuesday 1 May 2012

...she'll be coming 'round the mountain when she comes...

Denver Junction - pen & french sepia wash
Well, I don't know if that's the Rocky Mountains spread across North America and Canada, but I do know that my Denver is not Denver, Colorado, but good old A1122 Denver - just outside Downham Market, Norfolk UK - which lies on the Roman Fen Causeway.
And even joined, twinned or mashed up with Downham Market and twin town Civray, it's still a mite smaller than the capital of Colorado! Although I confess to having overcome my surprise at such familiar local names as Denver, Boston, Vancouver, and Norfolk too - how did the village of Eye come to be christened, well - Eye?
While there's no Cherry Creek or South Platte River, our Denver is the site of the first sluice built by Cornelius Vermuyden in 1651 and plays a major role in the drainage of the fens. Denver Sluice which is at the confluence of not two but five watercourses is also home to the Denver Sailing Club. 
And not a word about my french sepia 'Denver Junction' yet.  
Watch this space... 

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