Memories of Morandi

Can I ever draw bottles without thinking of Morandi? Certainly not when I’m drawing the stoneware bottles they keep lined up on the window sills at Filmore & Union in the Redbrick Mill in Batley.

My first commission after leaving college was to spend a weekend drawing at a house, a Victorian vicarage, not far from Oxford. I took down my Natural History Illustration degree show at the Royal College of Art, got on the train to Oxford and enjoyed drawing for a long weekend. My favourite subject was the interior of the potting shed, which included a wooden wheelbarrow, tools, a trug and, of course, stacks of assorted terra cotta plant pots. That pen drawing became the centre spread of the small sketchbook that I produced, which consisted of eight or perhaps as many as a dozen pages, carefully extracted from my Bushey foolscap sketchbook, which they had bound as a slim hardback.

I remember thinking that if this was life after college, I could get used to it, as it was basically a continuation of what I’d done at college, just draw, draw, draw, day in day out, except that now someone was willing to pay me to do it!

Morandi Sketchbook

The man who I was working for had been in the British Army in Bologna during World War II, and had befriended Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) and, I think, helped him out during a difficult time. Morandi presented him with (or more probably, he bought from Morandi) a small sketchbook of drawings – of bottles, naturally. Morandi had used whatever had come to hand and my memory is that at least some of the drawings were in ballpoint pen on cheap paper.

Earlier this month, on a previous visit to Filmore & Union.

Morandi’s bottles were never as standoffish as the bottles in Filmore & Union, but I guess that’s the reserved character of British bottles compared with Morandi’s highly sociable Italian bottiglie, which were always getting together with boxes, jars, jugs and vases.

When I was a student, my favourite painting in the National Gallery was Vuillard’s La Cheminée but probably, if I had the choice today, the painting that I’d most like to live with would be a small Morandi.

Scones and Sketches

Lemon & raspberry sponge, Rich & Fancy.

Reviewing my A6 postcard-sized Pink Pig landscape format sketchbook for this winter, you might think that my life has been dominated by a search for the perfect scone. It has, and we’ve got our visits to Nostell timed to coincide with when the scones emerge from the oven, however these freshly-baked scones, were at the Rich & Fancy Cafe on Queen Street, Horbury.

Woman in audience at Wakefield Naturalists’ Society.

But I don’t insist on Bake Off standard cakes to draw; I equally enjoyed drawing the salt and pepper pots and the sauce and vinegar bottles on my brother-in-law’s dining table. These drawings are all larger than they appear in my sketchbook because I like the texture of pen on cartridge paper, which I lose at screen resolution. Drawn with my favourite pen, a Lamy Safari with an extra fine nib filled with brown Noodler’s ink.

I’ve got another Lamy Safari filled with a cartridge of Lamy black ink, which I blotted with a water-brush to get this wash effect on a brooding morning at Charlottes. Again during a coffee and scone break. A pattern is emerging.

View from Charlotte’s in line.

Town End Farm Shop

View from Town End farm, Airton‘Do you do all your drawings from cafes?!’ asks Chris Wildman as I show him my latest lunchtime sketch, drawn as I waited for my quesadilla filled with cheese and Town End farm shop’s original chorizo. I must admit that I’ve ended up with three little sketches from cafe tables on this spread but all that’s going to change because we’re heading off for a week at Nethergill Farm in Langstrothdale, which is about as tucked away as you can get in the Yorkshire Dales. At last, I’ll be working in my 8 x 8 inch wildlife sketchbook again.

malham magicLink; Town End Farm Shop, the only place in the Yorkshire Dales where you can buy my little Malham Magic guide! Thank you for stocking it Chris.

If you’re unable to get there, I can send you a copy, price £2.95, post free in the UK; Malham Magic.

Maple Syrup

maple syrupToday’s still life sketch is my mum’s maple syrup. This Waitrose Organic Canadian Maple Syrup, No. 1 Medium, is from Beauce in the south-east of Quebec Province ‘on the Chaudière River where there is a naturally large concentration of sugar maple trees’.

It takes forty litres of sap, harvested in the first few weeks of spring, to produce one litre of syrup after evaporation.


Small Pleasures

costa coffee‘If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.’

John Cage

ficus leavesLife has been such a series of unfortunate events recently but I’ve so enjoyed a short pause drawing whatever object came to hand.

With no chance of getting out to draw the autumn colours, I settled for the evergreen branch of an artificial ficus mugbenjamina in a waiting room.

But I find it a fun to just draw my cup. Even the disposable cups in the hospital cafe have a certain charm when you stop to look at the them for John Cage’s suggested eight or sixteen minutes.

In a Nutshell

I’m getting better with the nutcrackers. The walnuts are from one of Clive Simms’ trees, from his orchard near Peterborough and they break open more easily than the rock-solid walnuts that I remember attempting before.

Clive, who I remember from school days, is something of an authority on growing fruit and nuts trees and he modelled his Nutshell guides (no longer in print) on my little local booklets and the bestselling Grandma’s Guide to the Internet which my sister and I put together inspired by my mum’s attempts to get online in the late 1990s (no longer in print either).

The ‘Squirrel-proof’ Nut Tree

walnuts‘I’m currently having my annual battle with the grey squirrels as to who gets the lion’s share of the walnuts from the tree in our garden.’ Clive tells me, ‘I ‘squirrel proofed’ the tree with old litho plates on the trunk (see Nutshell Guide for details) last week before leaving for a short holiday inYorkshire just as the nuts began to fall. I returned to a scene of carnage with broken shells and husks everywhere… the squirrels were certainly enjoying themselves and had even recruited the local crows to add to the mayhem.

‘Fortunately a neighbour who looks after the place when we’re away collected a lot of the fallen nuts and I’ve collected as many as I can since I returned. The recent stormy weather brings down most of the crop in one huge deluge of nuts and after collection I dry them on newspaper spread over the floor of the house. Having under-floor heating helps a lot!’

‘Fresh ‘wet’ walnuts taste very different to the more mature dried ones, being much lighter in colour and sweeter in taste. However, eating them too early, almost as they fall, isn’t always appreciated by everyone as they can be a little astringent.’

Fruit Bowl Sketches

bananas lemonA ballpoint pen wouldn’t be my first choice for a drawing but, as I’ve explained before, I’ve struggled to find something that doesn’t go through the absorbent paper of my current sketchbook.

orangeCataloging my old sketchbooks, I’ve been reminded that in the early 1980s, when I did a lot of travelling and commuting, I found a particular make of black ballpoint pen useful.

Link; Clive Simms, talks and courses

Coffee Stop

treeBlacker Hall FarmThe social whirl is fine but it will be good to settle down to work again and have more joined up time for drawing!

Today it was coffee at Blacker Hall Farm Shop, in a lofty beamed barn with a rural view (left) which in fact includes the embankment of the Barnsley to Wakefield Kirkgate railway.

beamThe tree was a quick lunchtime sketch sitting outside at the Cafe Capri, Horbury High Street but that’s just a break before the real business of the day which is to print some of my walks booklets for a stall at this weekend’s Festival in a Day event in Ossett.

Better get printing then . . .

Meat needs Mustard

Meat needs MustardDetail from the background of a wartime family photograph, of which more later. A Google search reveals that the poster;

Your Inner Man warns you
Meat needs Mustard

dates from 1940. 

Howgate Wonder

Howgate WonderIt’s been our best year so far for our Howgate Wonder double cordon. I pruned off all the extraneous growth early in the year and I’ve just given it a summer prune, leaving two or three buds on each twig to encourage fruit buds to form.

Freshly Baked

loafThe sourdough from the Flour Station kept us in bread for a week and it’s inspired me to get back to breadmaking so I made this farmhouse loaf today, using a multi-grain flour along with the strong white and strong brown.

loafI drew it with a .25 Rotring Rapidoliner then added the bolder lines with a .70. My great hero amongst Victorian art critics, John Ruskin, is emphatic that this illustrator’s trick of adding variety to a drawing is always bad practice. Sorry about that John.

Wheatgerm Levain

wheatgerm levainWe can make a wholemeal loaf in a few hours, so why would you want to take several days over it?

Here’s the answer; this wheatgerm levain sourdough has been made by the artisan bakers of the Flour Station, Borough Market, London, the slow way using a culture of wild yeasts, giving it an extra depth of flavour. It’s got an individual character – old fashioned and rather malty – compared to with loaves made with sachets of dried yeast that we use.

Many thanks to Amy Appleby of the Flour Station for giving us the chance to sample this robustly rustic loaf.

wheatgerm levain

wheatgerm levainIt arrived just in time for lunch so I couldn’t wait to draw it before we cut into it. Later I brought it up to my studio to draw and it now smells of homemade bread in here.

It makes toast with attitude; a robust compliment to the honey I spread on it. Goes well with piedmont peppers, for dipping and mopping up the juices. It made crunchy croutons to sprinkle on a salad and we’re just about to use it as base for a bruschetta . . . or will we try a roast veg toastie . . .

Link: the Flour Station; ‘The Flour Station story started in 2002 in the kitchen of Jamie Oliver’s award-winning Fifteen restaurant in London . . .’