Odd Sketches

ARE YOU sitting comfortably? After cats and views from trains, just to round off the selection from my sketchbook for May, here are some of the other subjects that I drew in odd moments.

The retro chair was in Caffe Italiano in the Ridings Centre, Wakefield, back in mid-May, the chair back and chair legs are probably from one of the waiting rooms that I’ve spent time in.

I think of these chair sketches as being rather poor as I draw them, because they’re always fitted in as I’m waiting for someone and, more often than not, there isn’t the chance to finish them but when I look back at them they don’t look so bad and, for someone who wants to improve their drawing, like me, it’s better than just sitting there staring into space.

Favour or Forfiet

We were in London for an old friend’s wedding, held in the grounds of Ham House, down by the River Thames below Richmond Hill. I’d got the idea that I could be the wedding artist, as opposed to the wedding photographer, but the trouble with weddings is that there are people you haven’t seen for years . . . and food, and drink and dancing and you don’t get the chance to sit and sketch. This wedding also included, uniquely in my experience, a game of pass the parcel, including favours and forfiets in alternate layers. Luckily I avoided a forfiet and ended up with a lei, so I didn’t have to receit Shakespeare or tell a joke or sing a song. Phew!

Jamie’s Italian

The next day we walked alongisde the river from Teddington Lock to Kingston-on-Thames, stopping for lunch at Jamie’s Italian (which I liked, must try and get to the one in Leeds), before continuing to Hampton Court.

The Fastest Milkman in the West

It’s interesting to walk along with a couple of locals – Barbara’s nephew Simon and his partner – and hear stories about the area; Benny Hill was a local a celebrity and you can’t help thinking that it might be true that his ghost still occasionally pops in to the old Thames Television studio at Teddington Lock.

‘Fairy Dairy Land’ was a quote recently used by David Cameron at Primeminister’s question time. It’s from Benny Hill’s hit record Ernie, the Fastest Milkman in the West, which also includes a character ‘two ton Ted from Teddington’ who ‘drove the baker’s van’. The spirit of Benny Hill still roams these mean streets. Simon lives opposite the depot where the milk floats, and formerly the horses that pulled the milk floats, were kept in Hounslow, but the dairy closed a few years ago . . . gone to ‘Fairy Dairy Land’ like so many others.

I’ll finish this odd-and-ends posting from my sketchbook for May with Simon’s sofa.

Trackside Landscapes

I DREW Xander the black and white cat in colour this weekend and I felt that my usual rapid sketches drawn as the train headed for London should have colour added to them too.

Instead of drawing individual trees, hedges and buildings as they flash by, I try to link them into a landscape composed of bits and pieces that may have been drawn miles – ten miles or more in some cases – apart.

By my first sketch I’ve written ‘Doncaster to Grantham’, while the second was drawn between Stevenage and Potters Bar.

Midland Landscapes

On the return journey there’s a section where the line follows an attractive lowland river for a while.

After that the landscape features rolling hills, farms and stumpy church towers with small spires. My sketch also includes a couple of sheep, a crow and a cutting through Jurassic limestone. These features were scattered across miles of trackside landscape in the Grantham area.

Finally, as we neared Doncaster, here’s a landscape of more church towers, cows and distant hills that I didn’t quite get finished. I got as far as dabbing in a grey and pale green wash. It was a dull, overcast afternoon.

A Sketchbook Underground

Until you leave the central zone, there isn’t much to see through the windows of a London Underground train. A fearless drawing journaller like Dan Price might have sketched fellow passengers in the busy train but I settled down to drawn my left hand. Again, as this is unfinished, you can see how I start off with a pale wash of grey before adding yellow ochre, sometimes with a dash of permanent magenta.

Permanent magenta is the cool red that I’ve used to replace alizarin crimson, or permanent rose or whatever else I was using in my pocket watercolour box. The thinking behind this is that magenta will be more useful for mixing the colours of wildflowers, so many of which are variations on magenta. Neutral tint recently replaced the rather acid, greeny blue version of Paynes grey that I’ve used for a decades as the grey in my watercolour box. So far neutral tint seems to work well for the natural subjects I’m keen to draw.

Finally, here are hand studies, and a handful of details drawn as they flashed by through the window, drawn between Kings Cross St Pancras and Hunslow East on the Piccadilly Line.

More of Xander

I’D FORGOTTEN just how many sketches I’d made of Xander when I added my last post but you can’t have too many sketches of this relaxed and comfortable individual, he’s such pleasure to draw, so here are the rest of them, from four pages in my A5 sketchbook. Even though he’s a black and white cat, I feel that colour adds a lot of life and information to a drawing, so I added watercolour to my pen and ink whenever he gave me long enough.

Sometimes I had time only for the basics before he turned his head, often to see what Alfie was up to on his brief visits via the back-door cat-flap. As I mentioned, Alfie isn’t as comfortable about having visitors like ourselves in his house.


The grooming routine goes by rapidly but I manage a quick sketch – what I’ve heard a called a ‘gestural sketch’ by tutors taking life classes – of the stage where his back leg goes into the air, as if he’s playing a cello.

Next a whole sketchbook page. I feel that for animals you’re usually best with a bigger spread, so that you can keep going on to the next pose without turning the page. There’s also the chance, a slim one admittedly with Xander, that you could come back to a previous pose if he happened to go back to that position.

Cat Naps

But it’s when Xander at last settles down to sleep that you finally get the chance to add texture and colour. Of course he might decide to go to sleep somewhere where you can only see his back legs. Never mind – I need practice on back legs too!

Or he might stop only long enough to access the chances of moving in to take some of Alfie’s food. I think you can see that thought process of Xander looking at the food bowl and thinking ‘you’re mine – all mine!’, even in my crude, quick sketch. He didn’t get away with this; Alfie’s food gets cling-filmed as soon as Alfie pops out through the cat-flap. Even Xander hasn’t worked out how to remove the cling-film.

Paws for Food

Cats that are allowed outside tend to eat more than those who are restricted to living indoors. When Alfie and Xander were younger, they were kept in the house and they ate just as much as they needed, when they needed it; the food was always there for them.

Now, when they can come and go with a degree of freedom, they tend to go straight for the food bowl when they come in (I know that feeling of coming in, ravenous) but they also like to have a feed before they set out on their adventures again, on the grounds that you never know where your next meal is coming from.