If I hadn’t become an illustrator, perhaps I could have had a career as a cowboy. This photograph from the mid to late 1950s of me toting six-shooters brings back so many memories.
The shiny new silver six-gun in my right hand fired the kind of caps that come in a ribbon while the old gold model in my left needed to be laboriously loaded for each shot with an individual paper cap, which wouldn’t be a lot of use if you were being attacked by a whole posse of baddies.
However, I remember that it was engraved with curlicue patterns, so I reckoned that if I ever got lost in deep in canyon country, I could use it as a map.
I can still remember the smell of gunpowder and metal.
I’m pretty certain that the holster was one that my mum had made from skiver, a thin sheet of sheepskin leather. Not sure if it really was green with red trim, but I did once have a waistcoat from a cowboy outfit in those colours. The hand-knitted Aran pullover was most likely grey but probably not the kind of thing that gunslingers wore in the Old Wild West.
My drawing was made as a way of getting familiar with Adobe Illustrator Draw, a vector drawing program, using an Apple Pencil on my iPad.
At the weekend, we were invited to a family birthday party and I was pleased to see a set of six well-worn blue-and-white china cups and saucers set out on one of the tables in the garden.
When Barbara’s mum, Betty, died we’d got them all ready to send off to the Hospice Charity shop when our niece Joanne spotted them and asked if she could take them. It’s great to see them still in use for family occasions.
I suspect that they might date back before Betty’s time. Her mum ran a boarding house in Blackpool between the wars, so perhaps they date back as far as that. There’s no maker’s name stamped on them, so they’re not anything special, like Crown Derby.
I had airbrushed cigarette card portraits of football stars of the 30s and 40s in mind as I traced this newspaper photograph of Lincoln City full back (1939-1947), Alex Thompson (who would later be one of my teachers at junior school). You can see the coarse dotted screen tones of the original in the background of my drawing.
Unfortunately, by enlarging the photograph, I’ve lost clues to the shape of the face that you can pick up in the small version. They get flattened into amorphous grey areas of pixels when enlarged.
Drawn from Memory
If you allow for his face filling out since his lean, fit footballing days, I don’t think that my drawn-from-memory brush and ink of him as a teacher was too far off the mark. I drew this before I came across the photograph.
My grandad, Robert Bell, always referred to my grandma Jane as Ginny. That name must have gone back a long way because, delving back into my family tree on Find My Past, I’ve found that she was entered on the 1901 census as ‘Jennie Bagshawe’ (in fact, that should be Bagshaw, but I think that extra ‘e’ adds a certain cachet).
Then aged 22, she was working as cook in the household of Helen Taylor, widow, alongside Clara Holmes, 21, housemaid, who was born in Eckington, Derbyshire. Also resident at Mrs Taylor’s was her son, Joseph G Taylor, aged 37, a saw manufacturer.
Sheffield was heavily bombed during the World War II Blitz so many of the homes of my ancestors, including my mum’s family home and my great-grandma’s home next door, were destroyed, so I was delighted to find that the house where grandma cooked so many meals was still intact, along with its gateposts.
I can imagine Jennie and Clara sharing the attic room. I once asked grandma what was involved in domestic work and she recalled that it was a long day, starting with setting the fires very early in the morning.
I remember that she was a good cook and it was amazing how she and Robert could create a Sunday dinner, Yorkshire puddings included, for seven at Vine Cottage with just a single ring on a paraffin primus stove and the oven in the cast iron range, heated by a coal fire. The kettle, with its handle insulated by string wound around it, went on some kind of a rack in front of the fire.
In 1975 or 76, I cooked her my signature dish at the time, lasagne, and I think that she was quite impressed. As she made her way back down the stairs from my first floor flat, she fell and rolled down several steps at the bottom of the first flight but just picked herself up on the landing, giggling. She was in her nineties at the time!
I once asked grandad why, as a country boy, with a job in the stables of a big house, he’d headed for Sheffield.
“Because a certain young lady had gone there!” he replied.
It’s all rather romantic and I’m glad he made the journey as, otherwise, I wouldn’t have been here today.
Now, thanks to Google Maps and Find my Past, I know where she worked at the time. Did she ever look out of that arched window and spot young Bob coming to call on her on her day off?
I’ve struggled with this sketch of my fourth year junior school teacher, not just because I’m still trying out new techniques in Clip Studio Paint but also because, although I’ve got a vivid image of him in my mind, I find it hard to capture that in a drawing.
Barbara thinks that I’ve made him look too young and I think that’s partly down to exaggerating the size of his hands and face.
I found my previous year teacher, Mr Thompson, easier; he was nearing retirement and was a larger than life character. Mr Lindley was a great teacher, in mid-career – he went on to become a headmaster – and he didn’t have the kind of foibles that lend themselves to caricature.
I might try the headmaster Mr Douglas next and come back to Mr Lindley when I’ve improved my technique.
After a bit of a break, I’ve gone back to Clip Studio Paint on the iPad Pro, drawing with an Apple Pencil. Struggling to draw from memory on the iPad (see below), I decided to re-familiarise myself with the process by drawing three India ink bottles that happened to be sitting on my desk.
As usual, I started with a pencil layer, which proved useful because I made the third bottle that I drew a bit too small compared with the others. I realised that it wasn’t going to work as I inked it in (below) so it was easy to go back to the pencil outline, to correct the proportions (right). Virtual erasers don’t chew up the virtual paper.
I created a new layer labelled ‘pen’ and drew with a G-pen, one of the standard pens in the Clip Studio toolbox.
I added a ‘paint’ layer and painted with some of the watercolour brushes but then felt that I needed some darker areas, so added another layer for different ink brushes.
I decided on a tonal background rather than the white of the virtual paper, so used the rectangle tool to draw a box around the subject which I then followed on one final layer, using the pen tool to trace around the box, so that the line matched the drawing.
Teacher in Tweed
This is the drawing from memory that I was struggling with. It was supposed to be one of my teachers but I haven’t caught his character as I remember him. After a bit of drawing from life, I’m ready to try drawing from memory again.
Continuing my experiments with drawing with a brush, here’s my third-year teacher from St Peter’s Junior School, Mr Thompson. In those days of the post-war baby boom our class, 3T, was a short walk from the school itself, in the Ebenezer Hall. I’ve got an image of him in my mind leading us from school to overflow classroom and vice-versa. As to whether he wore a trilby hat and a scarf, I’m not certain, but I’ve tried to keep to my impression of his character.
There’s a gap between the picture in my mind and the drawing that appears on paper, so why should I add further to my difficulties by not going for the more familiar medium of pen and ink? I scan my initial pencil before inking over it (right), just in case that turns out to be the version that I prefer.
I couldn’t resist adding colour this time. The brush pen drawing works well with the flat colour produced by the paint bucket tool in Photoshop, so I’m definitely going to keep on experimenting.
I’ve got one more class teacher to draw, Mr Lindley from the fourth year, then there’s the headmaster, the caretaker and about half a dozen other teachers who made an impression on me, so hopefully I’ll get better with practice.
Mr Thompson has ended up looking a bit like J B Priestley in my pencil drawing and like Priestley’s main character in his play An Inspector Calls. That’s appropriate because Mr Thompson was a great storyteller.
It was an emotional finale to Dick Whittington last Saturday when our producer for the last twenty years, Wendie Wilby, retired. The presentation included a framed copy of my sketch of her which I drew a few years ago (greatly enlarged here, but it brings out the texture of the watercolour better than a same-size scan).
The Pageant Players are also going to miss the support of her husband, retired joiner and pigeon fancier, David, who has been stage managing the shows for almost as many years. The only thing that’s missing from my portrait of him is the pencil behind his ear that seemed to be a permanent feature.
You’ve already seen my working drawings for the backdrops, so here’s the cast. I took a particular interest in Alderman Fitzwarren because he – or should I say ‘she’, as this is a pantomime – was wearing a three-cornered hat of the type that I need to practise drawing for my Adam and the Gargoyle comic strip.
As so often in a pantomime, the baddies get all the best parts, so Queen Rat (above, left), was greeted by enthusiastic boos from the audience whenever she appeared.
The End! – OH NO it ISN’T!
After fifty-one years, I’ve said that will be my last production with the Pageants. With Wendie stepping down it seemed like a good time to go but I’ll be interested to hear how they get on. Like many drama groups they’re now faced by sky-rocketing rents for theatre space. The price per hour in Horbury Academy is still quite a bargain if you are requiring the room for just a few hours, but the Pageants need their set-building weekends, three technical rehearsals, dress rehearsals and the four evenings of performances, plus a Saturday afternoon matinee.
We saw our first swifts circling over Nostell Lakes a week ago and, by coincidence, since then their namesakes, my mum’s family, the Swifts, have taken centre stage in my family tree research.
I’ve taken a break from genealogy since the death of my mum in February 2015; she was my last link with my Victorian forbears and I enjoyed updating her with some nugget of family history that I’d unearthed, especially any family scandal, such as an attempted murder.
I subscribe to the Find My Past and a hint in one of their regular e-mails set me on the trail again.
I’ve gone right back to first principles and and I’m building my family tree again from scratch, starting with my mum, Gladys Joan Swift. The orange circles highlight hints, which usually lead to census records or births, deaths and marriages.
More material has been added to the online resources since I started delving into family history eight or nine years ago, for instance the 1939 Register, which is the nearest thing that we’re ever going to get to a census for the wartime years.
Adding portraits brings the list of names to life and we’re lucky to have photographs going back over the last 150 years and even a few oil on canvas portraits.
I just found a picture of my uncle, Maurice Truelove Swift(above, right), sitting on the beach at Hayburn Wyke, North Yorkshire. Sadly I never met him as he died around the time that I was born.
In the family tree (above, far right), there’s an uncle of my mum’s who she never knew about until I started my research. Frederick James Swift was the eldest son of my great grandad George’s first wife and I’ve discovered that he emigrated to New Zealand. Quite why my grandad never mentioned him to my mum is still a bit of a mystery. A family feud? Or did my grandad, Maurice Swift, not renowned as a people person, never see the point of mentioning him.
Finally, here’s a photograph that I found of my dad, Robert Douglas Bell; he was a sergeant major in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War and I think that you can see from this photograph taken on the beach at Filey that, although most of the time he was charming, he could revert to his sergeant major assertiveness when necessary!
It’s good to have a portrait where, for once, the subject isn’t just smiling at the camera; this is very much as I remember him as he implored me to get to grips with my maths and English instead of spending so much time drawing!
7.15 p.m.: The curtain goes up for the final performance of Cinderella, and I’m happy to see that the backdrop of Hardship House and Stoney Broke village looks fine. I’m glad that I put so much variety into the roofline and the chimney pots, because, once the chorus fills up the stage, that’s all that you can see of the scenery.
My forest scene looked suitably soft in my pen and watercolour sketch but in emulsion paint – which dries flat – and outlined in black line, it looks too flat and hard-edged.
At the curtain call, I’m called up on stage by Wendie Wilby, the producer, and presented with an inscribed clock to celebrate my fifty years scenery painting for the Society. It’s the nearest that I’ll ever get to a Lifetime Achievement award.