Waterton looks suitably sepulchral as, in 1830, in what could be seen as a kind of penance, he takes to sleeping on the bare boards of his work-room after the death of his young wife soon after she gave birth to their son Edmund.
In a moonlit room, the lightest tone is going to be the sky seen through the window but I’m going to have to redraw all or part of this frame of my section of the Waterton comic because I need more emphasis on the figure of Waterton. Your eyes adapt to the varying levels of illumination as you look around a dimly lit room, so I feel justified in introducing silvery highlights to the main subject. Could I also introduce a few beams of light streaking down from the window. That might be overdoing it but it would be fun to try.
Any of our Pageant Players’ dramas or farces set in a room called for what our producer called a box set, which was constructed of 12 x 4ft flats, one or two with doors in them. There were often French windows too. I feel as if I’ve been designing a theatre set for this introductory scene to Act 2 of my Waterton comic.
After thinking about the spaces on the upper floor of Walton Hall, I’ve focussed on one corner into which I can fit all the points mentioned in Norman Moore’s description of Charles Waterton’s work-room. I was going to omit the fireplace but as an old map of Guiana hung above the mantlepiece, it has to be included.
In this scene, Waterton is lying awake with a tear welling up in his eye. I’ll have to leave that detail to the reader’s imagination because I want to include the whole of his recumbent figure, lying there on the bare boards like an Egyptian mummy. The lighting and the bare boards serve to tell the story of his loneliness after his bereavement.
Designing a Victorian room that reflects eccentric interests and a colourful adventures of its occupant makes me think of the various room sets that I’ve seen for Sherlock Holmes’ consulting rooms at 221b Baker Street.
I’ve found the Huion light-pad that I bought for tracing my roughs equally useful for sorting slides, when I was searching for my 1977 photographs of Walton Hall before its restoration.
While searching for my Waterton slides today, I came across a storage box of slides marked ‘Artwork’. The first two slides go right back to my final show at Batley School of Art. I’d left school after my O-levels, against the advice of my headmaster, because I was keen to study art full time.
My two years at Batley centred on graphic design but I also qualified as a member of the Institute of British Interior Designers and Decorators (hence the theatrical designs for a theme pub), plus there was A-level art, art history, textiles, photography and ceramics. How did they fit all that in? During one year I remember having two, probably three, days a week when we worked from 9.30 in the morning until 9 at night. As I lived a two mile walk and a twenty minute bus ride away, it was hardly worth going home really. I’d treat myself to a fishcake sandwich, eaten as I walked briskly past the textile mills of Batley, to catch the late bus from Shaw Cross.
It was a delight to be encouraged to extend my skills in several directions at once. To try to extend my skills, I should say because my efforts were dissipated by such a range of tempting subjects; I remember that my final report, written by Mr Clarke, who taught exhibition design, 3D design and printmaking, was something along the lines of ‘Richard’s work is all over the place but he should eventually be able to find a specialist niche for himself’. Mr Clarke put it more diplomatically than that, though!
Looking at these slides, I notice how much hand-lettering we were encouraged to do. Instant Letraset rub-on lettering was something of a luxury. You could set type by hand, which was a wonderful introduction to typography.
As soon as I’d completed my O-levels, I’d started painting scenery for the Horbury Pageant Players and took every chance to design a poster for their productions and for other groups. The Lilac Domino poster was screen-printed professionally (at the time when screen-printers would hand-cut waxy stencils, which were then ironed on to the screen) but I printed the Men in Shadow poster on the big offset litho press in the college print room, which had a huge rubber-covered roller which ran on a kind of cog railway.
It wasn’t an unqualified success because the Pageant Players found my hand-lettering so unreadable that they also got the local letter-press printer to run up the usual playbill style poster. But I remember my pride at seeing my poster on display in the window of the garage opposite the town hall in Horbury (with the readable version displayed in the window next to it!)
One of my favourite options was the Friday morning photography course, run by Fred Sergeant. I was fascinated by techniques such as solarisation, bas-relief, high contrast black and white and reticulation.
I’ve still got a folio that includes almost all the artwork from my 1969 show.
Today I’m doing a little research for a set design for my Waterton comic. John Whitaker, a curator at Wakefield Museum (and the author of the comic) has referred me to a description of Waterton’s work-room, written by Norman Moore in his introduction to Waterton’s Natural History Essays (p. 127);
On the top floor of the house, in the opposite direction to the organ gallery [part of Waterton’s museum], was the chapel, and a small room which was at once Waterton’s study, bird-stuffing workshop and bed-room, if bed-room it could be called when there was not any bed. The Wanderer always slept on the boards, wrapped up in a blanket. His pillow was a block of oak, which had been originally rough, and in course of years had become almost polished by use. The entire room revealed at a glance the simple tastes of its occupant. Some prints and pictures, which in his eyes had a meaning superior to art, hung on the walls, some shelves contained his favourite books, his jug and basin stood on a chair, and he had a little round looking-glass and a table. Over the mantel-piece was an old map of Guiana, a record to him of living scenes and loving memories. For mere ornament’s sake, there was nothing. To the sleeping eye all rooms are equally blank, and when Waterton was awake in his work-room he was mostly intent upon inward thoughts or outward occupations.
The Organ Gallery
I remember the ‘Organ Gallery’ with its oak panelling which I assumed was salvaged from the Tudor/medieval Walton Hall when the present hall was built in the eighteenth century. There were chests, with initials and carved dates from the 1600s built into the window bays. Unfortunately all the panelling was removed when the hall was converted for use as a country club and hotel in the late 1970s. This corner room became part of the manager’s flat and a kitchen was installed. This might be the only existing photograph of the Organ Gallery, which in Waterton’s day housed an extension of the museum, which was displayed almost entirely on the staircase.
If Waterton’s room was ‘in the opposite direction’ that might mean the south-east corner, with the best view of the lake. If it was on this corner it would have light throughout the day, which Waterton would need for his meticulous work, so that’s what I’ll go with.
In older photographs, the sash windows of the Hall were divided into six lights, top and bottom, so they looked more Georgian than in my photographs.
When I was born in Walton Hall, then a maternity hospital, there were tales amongst the midwives that at a particular hour of the night/very early morning, there would be the sound of movement upstairs which they put down to the spirit of Charles Waterton, a devout Catholic, rising early to say his morning prayers in the upstairs chapel.
My mum, who had arrived at the hall after dark, remembered the following day seeing a flock of birds fly past the window. The nurses told her these were Canada geese flying up from the lake which surrounds the house like an overgrown moat.
I’ve been struggling to get this knife to break out of the frame, cutting across the border in the program that I’m using to lay out my comic strip artwork, Manga Studio EX5. Even after watching a YouTube tutorial by Manga Studio doyen Doug Hills, I’ve had to go back to Photoshop, which I’ve been using since the 1990s, to the cut around the artwork. There must be a way to do that in Manga Studio, but I’m not there yet.
Pasting up the comic on screen is a flexible way of working but the finished product will be printed on A4 paper so, as I’m now a quarter of the way through the project, I decided it was a good time to print out my pages to see how it’s all coming together.
I like the splash of colour in the opening frame and the low key colour of the soap works page but my favourite frame so far is the one where the poacher is forced to drop his knife. And it looks even better with the knife looming out of the frame and coming towards you!
It’s time to move on from this first page of the Waterton comic, but here it is at last. I feel that I’ve overdone a scene that should have been given the lightest of touches but, having worked out the staging and the details, I can always come back to it later, when I’ve had more practice and I’ve developed a house style.
I don’t think that it harms to overdo artwork occasionally, you need to feel free to experiment, so I’m glad that I’m not up against a tight deadline.
I was surprised how difficult it was to get Squire Waterton to look as if he is winking at the reader. Although I’m always thinking in terms of scenes from a movie, a single drawing represents just one moment, much as I try to relate it to the next or the previous frame.
A wink depends on the recipient of the gesture seeing the start and finish of the movement. One eye kept closed indefinitely doesn’t have the same meaning, but in a single drawing, it’s difficult not to give the impression that an action is frozen in time. A freer style might suggest the the movement was in progress.
Two pages from my ‘Exercise Book Encyclopaedia’, drawn in January or February, 1965, when I was aged thirteen. From my mum’s account I’m describing the bombing raid in which the family portrait Boy with a Hoop was damaged.
I can see the influence of the magazine ‘Look & Learn’ which I read as a schoolboy. I very rarely read it cover to cover but I always devoured the pictures and layouts and I can still recall many of the spreads. December 12th 1940; at 7.15 p.m. the sirens went. There had been some bombs before this . . .
My grandma and grandad Swift were having tea, my mother was reading at 77 Netheredge Road. Hearing the sirens they downed everything and headed for the shelter in the garden.
They went into the shelter grandad designed. Next door my great grandma.
[Note what appears to be a periscope my grandad added to the shelter. Or is it a ventilator? I like his ingenuity. Wish I’d known him better!]
My grandad remembered he had left some rum in the house. He decided to go back for it.
Just as he is almost at the house an unearthly lot of bombs drop nearby.
He goes back to the shelter.
[Great] Grandma had stayed in her house. It was bombed. An incendiary was dropped near the shelter.
When they got back to the house after the raid there was a mess. The bathroom wall was on a slant.
They got grandma out of her cellar [via the coal chute as the house had been flattened]. She went to a rest home. When she got there she sent them back for her bird who was a little shaken. My mum, grandad and grandma went to the country.
Mum; Gladys Joan Swift, aged 22 in 1940. Grandad; Maurice Swift. Grandma; Ann Swift, nee Jones. Great Grandma; Sarah Ann Swift, nee Truelove, widow of George, the Boy with a Hoop.
My great grandfather George Swift was born in Sheffield in 1840 so I guess that this portrait of him was painted around 1845. As far as I can tell, the painting isn’t signed.
It reminds me of those formal Victorian studio portrait photographs which often have a formal park on a painted backdrop.
My mum remembered as a toddler being prompted to look at this painting and say ‘Granddad, pull your sock up!’
The urn of flowers is a corner of the painting that appeals to me. I can imagine the portrait being produced by a team, with one artist adding the floral flourishes.
The pleasure dome in the background looks like the artist’s invention but the setting reminds me of Sheffield Botanical Gardens, a place that my great granddad George was familiar with.
When we drive past the gardens, I always find myself remembering my mum’s story that, when she was a baby, George would push her in her pram to the gardens but he complained that;
‘This baby always starts crying as soon as I get to the gates! And I have to turn around and bring her back to be fed.’
His good looks have come down through the generations and we’ve got photographs of one of his great great great grandsons standing by the portrait, hoop in hand looking very like his ancestor.
I had some difficulty photographing the painting because of the glossy varnish. Surprisingly, even though I had my camera on a tripod it came up with a ‘blink detected’ warning! I think it’s more likely that great granddad was winking at me.
The canvas has a tale to tell. Two patches of rubber glued to the back show where it was repaired when a bomb hit my granddad Swift’s house during the Sheffield Blitz.
There are two maker’s stamps on the back of the 3ft x 2ft 6 inch canvas. Geo. Rowney & Co. supplied the canvas, and perhaps the stretcher. I can’t decipher that London address.
There’s a clearer stamp from H. Hodgson of 39 West Street, Sheffield. It appears that Hodgson was a ‘Carvre & Gildre’, so presumably the carver and gilder who supplied the ornate frame.
If you’ve any ideas on that last line of Hodgson’s stamp, please let me know. Could that last word be ‘Stationer’?
My mum, Gladys Joan Swift (as she was then), looks about six in this portrait, so it must have been painted around 1924.
It was painted in Sheffield by Charles Beatson (1864 – 1949). He painted historical subjects including a Portrait of a Cavalier. In those subjects, I can see the influence by of Dutch painters and I think there are hints of that in this portrait, that’s if you can get past mum’s 1920s party dress!
The canvas is 3ft x 2ft 6 inches. There’s no makers name on the back.
I’d love to identify the book that my mum is holding. It might be there to add a splash of colour but, even so, it looks like a particular title. It’s possible that my mum had brought a book with her to the sitting but I think that it’s more likely to be a prop, something Beatson was able to put his hands on in the studio.
When I invert and stretch it in Photoshop, the illustration on the back cover looks like a woman reading from an open book to a boy.
One of my mum’s favourite books was Alice in Wonderland. In her final illness, in January this year, when she was confined to bed in a nursing home, she asked me to look out her childhood copy of Alice and to bring it in and read it to her, describing to me just where I’d find it on the bookshelf. I’m sorry that I didn’t get around to doing that before she passed away but between the two of us we managed to remember a few of the lines from the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
We’re back to that staple of Victorian melodrama, gentlemen in top hats in rapt conversation. As a contrast to the businesslike surveyor (on the left) I’d originally had Waterton going hatless but then he looked too much like a canal worker so I’ve imagined him in threadbare coat and battered hat.
Battered hats are more fun to draw.
The script calls for Waterton to look wild-eyed so I’ve been trying different eye-shapes to get that across. I’m thinking of castaway Ben Gunn prattling on about Flint’s treasure or the Ancient Mariner stopping one of three to tell his tale. But Waterton is playing a practical joke on the surveyor, so he can look amused as well as manic.
With that in mind, I felt that his thumb and finger gesture looked as little too precise in my pencil rough. I was concentrating so much on this gesture that I gave Waterton five fingers!
After struggling with the final artwork in my last frame, I decided to work out everything carefully in my roughs. I even thought about the direction of the shading.
Even after producing the elaborate rough above, I felt that I needed to tweak the eyes, and as I’ve mentioned already, the hand.
Once again my light pad has been in use again and again throughout the day.