The Final Curtain

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.

Dick Whittington

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.

Audience: Awww!

Pageants: No, it’s much worse than that!

Audience: AWWWWwwwwwww!!!

Return of the Swifts

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.

Missing Uncles

Maurice T Swift, Hayburn Wyke, c. 1928.

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.

Maurice Swift

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.

Filey Beach

Robert Douglas Bell

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!

Link

Find My Past

Cinderella

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.

Muppet Mince Pies

Lenny is a tall for his age two-year old. The only time that he really settles down is when he stands to eat some ice cream but he trots off between spoonfuls so my sketch is as much reconstruction as observation.

Would he recognise himself?

‘Who’s that?’ asks his mum, showing him my sketch.

‘Lenny’, he replies immediately.

Florence, Lenny’s younger sister, is still too young to form such a clear sense of self. Her mum tell’s us that there’s a theory that a young baby doesn’t conceive that there is a separation between itself and its mother.

Facial recognition is something that humans are good at from an early age but we can be a bit too keen to spot faces. An etcher I know asks her friends to check her proofs for any rogue faces that might have popped up in her foliage, stonework and clouds before she commits to printing the finished version.

I can even spot a face in Barbara’s homemade mince pies . . .

. . . these two crusty old characters remind me of Statler and Waldorf on The Muppet Show.

The Harrogate Train

Harrogate station
Harrogate station

phone manUsually, as soon as I start drawing a commuter, he or she will change position or get on to a train but I thought that I had a chance with this man, sitting nursing his luggage and thoroughly absorbed with his phone. After five minutes our train started moving away but I’d made a mental note of the colours and I quickly added them. I like plain inky drawings but usually I feel that sketches like this come to life when I add a bit of colour; there’s so much more information in a drawing which includes colour.

‘You are now entering a great crested newt site’ a notice on the trackside near Hornbeam Park informs us.

Drab, Dry and Dusty

hill houseThe countryside has a late summer look to it. Oaks near Horsforth now look drab, dry and dusty. The flowers of creeping thistle have largely turned to downy seed heads. There’s a decadent feeling that the party is almost over, frothy creamy white flowers of Russian vine and trumpets of greater bindweed are festooned over fences. The waste ground flowers that I associate with the end of the summer holidays have appeared: Himalayan balsam, rosebay willowherb, common ragwort, goldenrod and, looking rather dull and mildewed even at its freshest, mugwort.Leeds sketches

park bloomIt’s the first time that we’ve visited Harrogate for years but we’ll certainly return. We walk up through the Valley Gardens then through the pinewood on Harlow Hill. We don’t get chance to walk around the Royal Horticultural Society gardens at Harlow Carr because we spend so long queuing for a leisurely lunch at the deservedly popular Betty’s Tearooms.

His Peculiar Menagerie

Prommers gather in the arena of the Royal Albert Hall, 7.25 p.m.
Prommers gather in the arena of the Royal Albert Hall, 7.25 p.m.

tubaWe’ve gone for seats in the grand tier, in the last box to the right of the orchestra, giving us the closest view but arguably not perfectly balanced sound, however I can hear every instrument and follow the action from solo violin, to cor anglais to glockenspiel. The Prommers, the members of the audience who stand, sit or lie down in the arena, might be closer to the conductor but they don’t have the unrestricted view of the entire orchestra that we’re getting.

Some of the players don’t have the option of tuning their instruments off stage so during the interval I get a chance to draw the harpist tuning up. The kettle drum player has a method of tuning his drum during the performance, turning the keys and keeping his ear close to the edge of the drum. I think of a drum as a background beat that doesn’t really need any tuning but when it comes to finishing off some of the pieces the kettle drum really does have to hit the right note.

kettledrum

harpistRavel’s Mother Goose and Debussy’s La Mer are the old favourites that brought us here but the British premiere of a Symphony for Violin, Chorus and Orchestra by Lera Auerbach, The Infant Minstrel and His Peculiar Menagerie, is an event in itself.

Edward Gardner conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra but I decide to miss out on the chance to sketch him in action because I don’t want to miss a note of the music. His conducting style combines the necessary precision and expression with a touch of wry humour and just a hint of mime. His peculiar menagerie of performers includes several glockenspiels, a musical saw, two harps and five vocal soloists including countertenor Andrew Watts. I’d have liked to have drawn them too.

White Rose Centre

hand handI’ve drawn my hands a couple of times waiting by the changing rooms in one of the stores in the White Rose shopping centre, Leeds, but just as I start sketching the shoppers – by trying to take a mental snapshot as they walk away – Barbara gets fitted up and we head off to find a likely place for lunch.

shoppers

Passers By

hatmancava girlAs storm Eva lashes across Britain, shoppers are hurrying along. I try to memorise costume and colours, making mental notes in the tens of seconds that they’re visible.

The man in the woolly hat is suitably dressed to face the elements, the woman with sparkling wine isn’t as she hastens to get her shopping packed in the car.

Butterfly buns.
Butterfly buns.

Shady Characters

party peopleThere were so many healthy choices at the buffet at Judy and Don’s silver wedding celebration yesterday. Needless to say, I was still tempted by the mini-quiches, pork pie and sausage rolls. Well it is Christmas.

group by the barMost people were sitting but it was the characters standing at the bar who I found most interesting to draw.

light and shadeEach individual had a different way of standing. Some added gesticulations to a story they were telling, others stood listening, holding a drink in one hand and, in the case of some of the women, a bag in the other hand. Little touches that help sketch a character, rather than the standardised party person that I might draw from memory.

conversationI drew in line only but it was the shapes that fascinated me as I drew, so today I added washes of neutral grey to emphasise the overall shapes rather than the outlines.