Work isn’t Working

‘Your imagination will never come up with anything more exciting than what’s in front of you.’

Lachlan Goudie

people pageAt last I’ve got on to my new sketchbook, the one that I’m going to use for trips around town. We’re heading for Leeds on the train so it’s ideal for trying out Una Stubbs’ approach to drawing surreptitiously in public places;

‘If I’m on a station platform and somebody walks past, I’ll try and remember what they look like and then, when I can, I sketch them. I love drawing old people. I’ve always loved old people and how one line can change a face.’

Una Stubbs


Una Stubbs is a presenter on The Big Painting Challenge, currently on BBC 1 on Sundays, and Lachlan Goudie, a painter, is one of the judges. I find the series quite inspiring and although it features non-professionals  I find myself thinking why should they have all the fun?

shopperI try memorising the people in the Costa Cafe at Wakefield Westgate. A list of details such as pin-striped grey suit, Hawaiian shirt and two-tone shoes isn’t enough in itself to conjure up the pose, body shape and character but, if I keep practicing, my visual memory for these subtler traits should improve.

working democonsultant costa coffeeThis demonstration was about cuts in welfare benefits but my take on ‘Work isn’t working’ would be that if work always feels like a chore you should probably consider finding something else to do. Work takes up so much of your life.

The demonstrators were drawn from life from the vantage point of a department store window with a view up the Briggate pedestrian precinct. It was the first thing that I drew in the new sketchbook and I thought the slogan made a suitable aspiration; to be more relaxed and enjoy every drawing.


busker busker

There are two kinds of buskers in Leeds; the ones that can belt it out but look rather ordinary . . .

. . . and the ones who look striking but still need a bit of musical training.

On the train back to Wakefield I had a chance to draw a man at the far end of the carriage from life rather memory. man in baseball capI realise that drawing from life is what works best for me but I’ll still keep trying to draw from memory.


Mother Goose

handWe got so much done this morning before heading off to my audiology appointment. Unfortunately I’d left my letter pinned on the pinboard and as they run a no-login ‘wait until called’ system it wasn’t until thirty-five minutes later that I realised I’d turned up forty-five minutes late.

Not surprising after a week of meetings. But things at last seem to be settling down.

last spreadThe wait did give me more than the usual amount of time  to do one of my innumerable waiting room drawings. I was particularly pleased to make as start on this page as this is the last spread in my Wainwright sketchbook. Yippee!

pepper and saltI never liked the paper but its shortcomings have forced me to try crayons again because watercolour bleeds through. I’m so looking forward to a fresh sketchbook. It couldn’t have come at a better time with spring and fewer commitments ahead.

I wouldn’t normally draw that cliche of drawing journals, the pepper and salt pots, as we waited for our meal in Frankie & Benny’s but I was keen to bring the Wainwright sketchbook to a conclusion. I started it in the dentist’s waiting room, drawing the goldfish, on 23 May 2013. I feel as if I’ve spent half my life in waiting rooms since then!



I knew that it would be easy to finish off this last spread this evening at the pantomime, bringing the book to a suitably upbeat conclusion.

The scenery worked well, our attempts at perspective created a sense of stylised space and I liked the way the cottage, made from a couple of small canvas-covered panels, extended the scenery into real space, allowing for a slapstick routine using its door and window.

But, if anything, the perspective painted door on the backdrop, with its gleaming rivets and chunky black hinges, looked more realistic than the real door on the cottage.

You can’t believe anything you see in a pantomime.

mother goose

The Memory of All That


Alice was the last book that I discussed with my mum, Gladys Joan Bell, ten or eleven days ago when I visited her in the nursing home. She recalled how she used to call in after school for tea at her friend Betty’s and they’d sit at the kitchen table and start acting out the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, which they knew by heart; 

‘No room! No room!’
‘There’s plenty of room!’

Eighty years later that was as far as she could remember, so she asked me to look out her copy of Alice and bring it in to read to her. I’ve got her copy here on my desk, a 1954 first edition of the version illustrated by Mervyn Peake, but I regret that I didn’t get around to reading to her on my last couple of visits and sadly mum died a week ago today on the Tuesday morning, 10 February, (of ‘OLD AGE’ as Doctor Singh recorded it) slipping away peacefully, to use the cliche, but in this case it was true.

I’m of the generation who like to put the blame for their shortcomings onto their parents, as I guess most generations do, but you can see from my mum’s college project Oakleaves (above), which she compiled in the Spring of 1937, that she does have a lot to answer for; she’s the one who gave me my love of drawing, books and theatrical spectacle, not to mention a romantic view of history.

Don’t Fence Me In!

Gladys Joan Bell, c. 1946


When she was in hospital in October, recovering from a broken hip and broken shoulder, my mum remembered cycling in the Peak District with my dad singing Don’t Fence Me In. But we’re going for These Foolish Things, one of the songs that she used to play on the piano, as her farewell at the funeral. That’s what I remember her playing but for lyrics I prefer the Gershwin song;

‘The memory of all that,
You can’t take that away from me.’

In hospital, rehab and in the nursing home mum had many set backs but somehow kept pulling through. A week after her death, I’m missing her already. For instance, I’d always tell her about historical bits and pieces that I’d come across, like the medieval carved head at Blacker Hall Farm cafe that reminded me of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, which I wrote about the other day.

oakleaves title

Oakleaves is a good example of how my mum undervalued her talents. It was her student project, at Ripon Teacher Training College, to design a pageant for the Coronation of George VI in the spring of 1937. As a child, I was fascinated by the beautifully produced, hand-lettered booklet of blank verse and costume designs that she’d put together.

Ten or twelve years ago Barbara and I had popped up to my mum’s for a Sunday morning coffee and I opened the kitchen swing bin to drop something in it and saw  Oakleaves, ripped out of its loose leaf binding, lying on top of the discarded lettuce and tea leaves.

‘Why’s this in here?!’ I asked.

‘Oh, I thought nobody will be interested in that, so I threw it out.’

‘Well, I’m interested in it!’ I protested as I fished it out. With some difficulty (and a basic knowledge of history) I repaginated it and kept it in my family history drawer.

Last year I decided to go to the trouble of scanning the whole thing and I revamped it into Blurb hardback format and presented her with a copy on her 96th birthday. Even then, she hesitated to show it to her old teaching friend, Olive, thinking that might be a bit bigheaded.

I’m so glad that I went to all that trouble because, this year, on the day that would have been her 97th birthday, we will be attending her funeral.


As a little memorial to my mum, I’ve now made the book is available from Blurb. They’re individually printed and I decided I wanted to try it in hardback with a dust jacket, so it’s rather expensive to produce, even for such a slim volume, but after the original’s near miss with the swing bin, I thought that only the best would do;

Oakleaves at Blurb. It should work out at £20 but Blurb seems to prefer to show the price in dollars or Euros, which makes it a little over thirty dollars.

Roofina the Gargoyle

 Blacker Hall Farm Shop Cafe

gargoyle Blacker Hall farm cafe

gargoyle Blacker HallYou ask me why the stony face?
Well, you’d look like that in my place;
I sit at table 23
But no one seems to notice me.
Five hundred years at Blacker Hall
And now I’m stuck here in this wall!
Most gargoyles have a tusk or horn,
No wonder I feel so folorn;
They gave me something else instead,
A bloomin’ ridge-tile on my head!

gargoyle sketchesgargoyleI hadn’t spotted this small carving in the converted barn at Blacker Hall until we happened to sit at table 23 in the farm shop cafe.

Drawing from the left side I assumed this was a clean-shaven man or a child. It was only when I drew the pencil sketches above from some photographs we’d taken that I realised, especially when seen from the right, that this looks more like gargoylea woman.

She reminds me of Tenniel’s drawing of the Queen of Hearts in the trial scene in Alice in Wonderland. A Wikipedia article suggests that Tenniel based his drawing on a stained glass window painting of of Elizabeth de Mowbray, Duchess of Norfolk (c. 1442-1507)

Tenniel's Queen of Hearts
Tenniel’s Queen of Hearts

which means that roof-shaped headpieces were in fashion towards the end of the Wars of the Roses. I’m sure that Blacker Hall dates back to that time and the weathering on the bedding in the sandstone suggests that the carving has been subject to the elements for hundreds of years.

gargoyle cartoon

I’ve been trying to imagine what kind of character ‘Roofus’, or as I now realise ‘Roofina’ would be.

We went to see the Aardman Animation movie Shaun the Sheep today and I thought that I’d try to work up the gargoyle into an Aardman style character. That’s not so easy as they make it look. If you do get to see the movie, it’s worth making the effort to sit out the credits as they’re illustrated with what look like production sketches of the characters.


RoofinaIf I had the time and enough Newplast modelling clay I’d try modelling her.

Developing Roofina as a medieval character didn’t seem to work. I think that it’s important that she remains a gargoyle (although I guess intended to be a fashionably dressed lady of the period, not anything scary).

RoofinagargoyleI imagined the male version of the character, Roofus, grumbling about his film career as a gargoyle extra;

‘I auditioned for The Lion in Winter and, would you believe it, they used French gargoyles for that title sequence! Talk about overacting! And a couple of them hadn’t even called in at make-up to get their cobwebs removed!’



Best of the Bunch


Or the least worst of the bunch. Drawing bananas is one thing but drawing them foreshortened is tricky. I found myself triangulating the black flower scars, as if I was looking for the pattern of a constellation. The repeated curves are more difficult to relate to each other.

I turned them around and tried an easier angle.



market blues
Wetherby market last Thursday

The banana is, botanically speaking, a berry, as is the kiwi fruit. The onion is a bulb.



ficus branch (artificial) old cherry tree

I got a chance to draw an old cherry and a Ficus benjamina (an artificial office plant version) on my travels recently.

There are now only three double-page spreads to go in my old sketchbook, then I can make a fresh start for the spring!

Scaling up

desert island

With the village scene finished, this afternoon we swivelled around the eight flats that make up the backdrop and my helpers obliterated Robinson Crusoe’s desert island.

palace scene

This gave me chance to elaborate on yesterday’s rough of the palace. Taking a piece of cartridge of the same proportions as the backdrop, I divided it up into the eight rectangles of the individual flats then transferred the perspective from the rough, keeping it blocky so that I can scale it up onto the flats themselves.

The timber framework  of cross-members of the flats is just visible beneath the canvas, which gives me a handy horizontal grid, which I’ve indicated with pencil lines.

carpenter's pencil

I borrowed a carpenter’s pencil and began mapping out the whole thing on the flats themselves, starting on the right (stage left), the most critical area, and projecting the radiating perspective to the left. This will be a giant-sized paint by numbers for my team next weekend. They’ll soon have it blocked out in with the ‘W’, ‘Y’ and ‘B’ that I’ve indicated; white, yellow and a light pastel blue. If we can establish the structure we can then enjoy working up the details.

As I put it on Facebook this morning; ‘we’re aiming high today; for the Palace think Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria, something that’s going to make Versailles look tatty. And we’ve got real gold paint, no, not the spray version, that’s a fire risk so we can’t use it on stage. Wouldn’t it be great to produce a set that when the curtains open the audience is stunned into a hushed ‘wow!’ Never happened yet but who knows, this year . . .’

The Palace of the Golden Egg


Mother Goose sketches

My first rough idea for the Palace of the Golden Egg in this year’s Pageant Players’ pantomime, Mother Goose, was to keep things simple and have three arches with pillars suggesting farmyard geese with a webfooted base and a beaky capital but I remembered reading somewhere that if you’re going draw a background at least go for an interesting perspective.

My next design shows the palace in perspective and this time, in addition to goosefoot bases, I’ve got egg-shaped windows and ormolu mirrors and a poached egg colour scheme of  yellow/gold and white, plus a pastel blue as a colour contrast to represent shading.Village scene

However, Wendy the producer tells me that we’re starting with the village scene today. Last year we were in Robinson Crusoe’s Rio to I’m obliterating its bougainvillea festooned taverna, shutters and pan-tiles with a Cotswolds barn inspired by the film of Into the Woods, a double-fronted half-timbered house and, as a contrast in shape, a thatched Georgian shop based on the Roundhouse on Queen Street, Horbury.

I painted the brown outlines but luckily I’ve got a team of young helpers waiting to help colour it in.

The Dark Side of Bananas

tomatoes, pepper and bananaI like to keep life simple and my sketches are usually line first, then colour. And that’s it. But here I wanted to indicate form too. I’m not good at multitasking so could I simplify the process to three discrete stages; line, form then colour? It didn’t quite work out.

Using the Tower Pen nib in the dip pen and brown Noodlers’ Ink, I drew the orange pepper first then added a tonal wash in paynes grey. Blue sits opposite orange on the colour wheel, so I guessed that a wash of orange over the greenish-blue Paynes grey would add form without throwing the colour off-key. The Paynes grey should theoretically work as an neutral shade. It’s not such a bad solution to the problem but the drawback is that I’ve lost the transparency of the orange. I’d like something more luminous.

For the tomatoes I remembered the advice of botanical illustrator Agathe Ravet-Haevermans; lightest colours first. The tomatoes started as an overall pale golden yellow, omitting only the highlight. The calyxes and stalks started as an ochre yellow. I prefer this approach because what I might lose in sculptural solidity is made up for in more luminosity. The white of the paper is still able to show through. A tonal under-drawing of Paynes grey would be more suitable for an architectural subject.

Bananas have long been problem for me. What colour is dark yellow? Again I started with an all over pale lemon yellow and instead of having neutral shadows I looked carefully to try and see the hints of green and sepia reflected in the yellow.

Just the kiwi-fruits left to draw now!