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Coming down to earth after what has seemed an epic field sketching month… 10 days based in Koycegiz, Western Turkey with Nik Pollard, Esther Tyson and Ben Woodhams. The project a DKM/SWLA collaboration. Working alongside some 20 or so Turkish degree/MA art students to interpret the threatened sweetgum forest. (I will write another post to try to describe this)…. Then almost straight on to the Firth of Forth for the annual ‘John Busby seabird drawing course’. It was good to share the intensity of this with Ben who also came on the seabird course, felt like we were battle hardened veterans who’d braved the 40 degree heat in Turkey to be further tested by the wind and rain of the Scottish seabird cliffs.
A major feature of both of these was to be teaching whilst trying to push our own work. It is one of the great things about the seabird course that I think is quite rare… the tutors getting on with their own work alongside the ‘students’ … really nowhere to hide. So we all share what is inevitably something of an emotional roller coaster.
Tutors were Kittie Jones, John Threlfall and Darren Woodhead. Bruce Pearson joining us as a ‘visiting artist’ and Bruce also joined in the tutoring. I certainly feel I learn a lot from the ‘teaching’ and also from the other tutors.
I felt I made a couple of mini (or maybe even major breakthroughs)…John Threlfall led what seemed like an innocuous set of exercises on the 5th evening… blind contour drawing. So we looked at an object (eg a stuffed gannet) and then without looking at our paper traced round perceived contours… mentally connecting the end of our pencils with the contours of what we were looking at. We did this several times, changing perspective or subject and John was emphasising to do it very slowly. The pivotal point was when he asked us to turn our pencil round and use the non mark making end to carry on drawing… so blind and invisible marks. It somehow emphasised for me that this is what I’m doing when I’m looking for drawing… almost like the mind sending out hands to feel around the subject and it is those extended feelings that are going back down the arm onto the page…more or less successfully.
The next day we had to decide whether to hire a boat to go out round the Bass rock (& its 150,000 gannets). We knew we wouldn’t be able to land and it was set to be choppy with some people worried about sea sickness. In the end almost everyone came and it felt like it was a decisive point in the week for many… the frenzy of activity round the rock, the constant movement of the boat and the difficulties of handling drawing materials…. meant people just had to let go a bit. There was hardly any chatter and it felt like everyone was head down sketching for most of 2 hours.
For me there was some kind of connection with the previous evenings exercises and the scribbled bundles of lines that were making up the bodies of my sketched birds was different to what I would normally do… quickly getting down blocks of tone made of scrambled line… and felt like that had some of the springy energy of all the action and noise. I could then hang details of the birds off of the scramble. Something to build on.
The other breakthrough was following on from a mini printmaking session in Turkey. Nik had planned for all the students to make prints during a display in a public square in Koycegiz. Small postcard sized card prints… Lines incised with biro and blocks cut with scissors. Quick and relatively easy to make and when hung together looking good because of all being of the same medium and the same size.
I’d found it quite more’ish and played around a bit more on the hotel verandah before we left. I took bare essentials for repeating the exercise in Scotland as potential wet weather activity…. then got to think that I might be able to do it out on the cliffs.
I started out small with the A6 postcard size prints… filling frame with bird motifs and starting to play more with getting half tones by hatching.
On the final day at St Abbs it was a lot more challenging with wind and rain and moving up to A4 in scale… The shag at the top of page was probably as good as I got… the cleanness of the image not giving the sense of the mess I was in… paper and polythene flapping into wet ink…paper sodden, the ink becoming unusable in the rain, but then fine again once it had dried a bit. Final effort was starting to look at handling the bigger space. Definitely want to do more.
My sister in law visiting from Japan came over from Wells on Sunday and brought presents including a couple of ready filled brush pens. Having a pre-loaded brush to hand quite more’ish.
A green woodpecker calling from the allotment (behind studio) had me poking my head over the back gate…made a good rest for binoculars and telescope. Getting a great look as it probed the banks that terrace the allotment beds. I’ve been trying to cultivate anthills on all our banks and mini meadow partly to lure the woodpeckers in. I’ve stuck thyme cuttings in lots of them… also some rock rose and birdsfoot trefoil. We’re lucky to have a south-east facing slope… perfect for the ants.
Picking up unsold work from Muchelney and visiting Greylake & Swell Wood either side of the pottery. First time I’ve seen the heronry in action.. it was late afternoon, so probably not best for light or activity but there was a strong atmosphere. Big beasts in the wood, primeval noises and the sense that this had been going on for a very long time. All the little birds, tits, nuthatch, woodpecker and dove all dwarved by these seasonal invaders, taking over the roof space. Postures I don’t remember seeing before. Quite hard work to pick out what was going on, looking up high and getting fragments of action through the branches. Birds clambering around breaking off twigs, alighting with crests greased up into trailing quiffs, copulating – a high wire act, somehow carried out in a diligent and respectful manner.
Late posting of exhibition at Muchelney pottery that is running until 15th March. As usual they have hung it really well.
Also showing at the Jerram gallery in Sherborne (next to the abbey) 5th – 23rd March in a mixed show of wildlife related artwork.
A selection of recent work including field painting, woodcuts & monoprints on show from Sat.31st Oct – Sat.28th Nov 2015. I’ll be at the gallery from 11-4 on the opening Saturday. All are welcome.
A week (19th-26th sept) on Bardsey with Kim Atkinson & Darren Woodhead as part of the BTO/SWLA flight lines project, sketching activities around the bird observatory.
Very low key bird wise which may have been for the best… forcing us to look more at the surroundings and the people at work.
Pretty low numbers of birds being caught, mainly young goldcrests and chiffchaffs.
Tail end of the surveying of the manx shearwater burrows, most of them had gone to see but we stalked Mark, one of the assistant wardens as he went about his work. Shoving his arm down lots of burrows and coming out with 2 well feathered young, nearly ready to go, but also two very fluffy youngsters who had a way to go.
The seals have become much more approachable since I spent time on the island in the 80’s and it was great to watch them with their pups. There were also Risso’s dolphins around the island, first time I’ve had prolonged looks at those.
Towards the end of our time on Shetland we got 2 days of sun. Great to have pitched up at a bay where there was an arctic tern colony. They were sitting on young chicks and eggs both down on the beach and in the boulder field above.
One of the great things from the trip was having the air full of seabird sound… here the electric sore throat fizzings of the terns (Shetland name apparently ‘Tirrick’, which does a much better job of conjuring the bird than its English name). The thoughtful ‘poo-weet’ of ringed plover (don’t know what the Shetlanders do for that one). I think the plover were all with well grown young.
Manic ‘kleeping’ of oystercatchers chasing each other around in parties and nearly tripping over their bills in head down piping contests. We saw a bonxie strike one down from one of the groups as they flew round the bay. Clobbering it to the ground, didn’t see how and then bludgeoning it with its bill with the other oystercatchers mobbing it for another 20 minutes or so whilst it plucked and ate a good portion of the bird.
We had 2 days with good viewings of otters. The first looking for them on the falling tide on Fetlar. My sketching falling apart with the excitement of seeing them. There is a shape shifting aspect to the otter, changing personality rapidly. So the initial struggle to hang a four legged creature on the page using an ink line is challenge enough in itself…let alone trying to capture this change in character.
With time for the images to settle I seem to then do a little better…
5670 – otter – shetland – ink pen – A4 sketchbook
I think I draw this journal type page in the campervan in the evening… and the following morning there was a new otter to practise on & by this time we were on Yell….. swimming across the bay where we’d spent the night.
My last view was of on on the west mainland, again from the campervan as it was starting to get dark. Susan wondered what the Arctic terns were all making such a fuss about, hovering over the mouth of the burn. I looked down and there was the broad backside of an otter shambling down into the sea. Disappearing and then a bobbing slicked head appearing a few yards out… free of the, clicking call, bickering bills.
Back from 3 weeks in Scotland. First the ‘John Busby seabird drawing course’, the 25th year it has run and the first one without John. I think he would have been happy to look down on us. It felt like the group of ‘students’ gelled quickly and we four ‘tutors’ were more actively leading activities… warm up exercises, Betty Edwards type things like continuous line, blind drawing, left hand etc. All seemed really healthy.
Then on to the Shetland isles for 2 weeks.
I’ll try and get to a series of posts about the trip….
Starting with gannets on the Bass.
hanging. braced fore-wing. unders shaded. diving mask tapered-goggles. arched rump. saw tailed fan flails down. flanked by paddling black marigolds. shorter inners.
deep bruised sea as wind gets up. volcano law another world.
black thumb, bulbous yellow, flailing hand, wiped moustache.
cloud masses rise out from land to cielo blue. above rock ledges teeming, feathers ruffling, mad making guttural growling honk.
More owl printing, jumping up in size for this one.