Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Ecology Park Pond in December

The Ecology Park Pond - 26th December 2008
8.5" x 11.5" pencil and coloured pencils
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

We went out yesterday for our Boxing Day Constitutional along the Regents Canal to Victoria Park - expecting to find lots of people also out walking - but we saw very few people. Maybe they had all gone to to the 70% discount sales?

This is the Ecology Park Pond which I sketched when I was reviewing the Derwent Safai Journal. Except yesterday the sky was an intense blue overhead - as was the pond - and the pollarded willows didn't have any leaves. The low afternoon sun in a very clear blue sky created a brilliant mix of complementary colours. I have to confess that it was so cold that the coloured pencil got added when I got home!

I'm thinking about maybe drawing this pond and its trees every month in 2009..........(see Reflections on a Pond)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The NEAC Discussion Panel 2008

NEAC Discussion Panel - Can you teach art or drawing?
(L to R) Alex Fowler, Francis Bowyer, Charles Williams and William Packer
8" x 11", pencil and coloured pencils in sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Last week, the New English Art Club arranged a Discussion Panel at its Annual Exhibition in the Mall Galleries - on the topic of "Can you teach drawing or painting?"

I'd drawn the panel at the discussion at last year's exhibition and wanted to do the same again so made sure I got there in good time and had a good view. Nobody on the Panel sat still of course so the sketch was completed in snatched moments as people settled for short periods - and I was darting back and forth between people all the time I sketched.

I find that the most difficult thing when sketching people like this is trying to guess which is the 'comfy' pose - the one an individual will always return to whenever they move.

I should have posted about the discussion last week as, although interesting, I can't now remember some of the points made in the debate. I do remember there was a long discussion about the various models of teaching drawing and painting which have been used over time - in particular comparing how people were taught themselves in the past and how they have to teach now - within whatever context.

Having qualified as a teacher myself in the dim and distant past, I do remember thinking I was less interested in how drawing and painting can be taught and more interested in how people learn to draw and paint in an effective manner (ie going beyond achieving a likeness).

In my view, in order for teaching to be effective the approach used does need to be based in an understanding of how people learn at different stages of their development as an artist. Sometimes you need to learn how to do and sometimes you need to be left to get on with trying to find what you can do with what you've learned. It did strike me me that maybe some of the approaches employed over time haven't always factored in how learning works - and that some approaches will have too structured and constrained for some and too vague and loose for others. I guess the question is a good one - even if it's not always easy to answer!

Note: NEAC has a Drawing School called, unsurprisingly, the New English School of Drawing. The information on the website is somewhat out of date but does provide a contact email for latest courses.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sunday Papers at Somerset House

I went sketching at Somerset House with the Friends of the Bankside Gallery/RWS three weeks ago. These are the remaining sketches from that trip.

I should explain that it drizzled virtually non-stop all the time. I tried working outside but my sketchbook hates water and started to ripple so virtually all of what I did was done from indoors!

Sunday Papers at Somerset House
11" x 8", pencil and coloured pencils in sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This sketch is of people sat in the foyer in between the Courtyard and the Terrace at the back which looks out over the Thames. They just sat very still reading their papers - and I couldn't resist drawing them against the fabulous windows and columns and the coloured greys of a late autumnal day.

The sketch below was done from the rear terrace - which is huge. At one end I could see the three of the tallest buildings in the City of London above the trees which were turning colour but were still holding on to a great deal of leaves.

From left to right the buildings in front of my fellow sketcher are:
  • St Paul's Cathedral (1677) - which features in quite a few of my sketches around and about the City of London
  • Tower 42 - the former NatWest Tower (1980) which used to be the tallest building in the UK until One Canada Square was built at Canary Wharf in 1990.
  • 30 St Mary Axe (2003) - also known as The Gherkhin
The view from Somerset House Terrace (in drizzle!)
8" x 11",
pencil and coloured pencils in sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

See also my sketch of the ice rink in Anyone for skating?

Somerset House is a great location for people who wanting somewhere to sketch in London as it offers lots of opportunities in all weathers terms of both interiors and outside locations plus it has good refreshment facilities and conveniences. Always a boon if you're staying in one place for any length of time!

Somerset House

Somerset House is inbetween the Strand and the the River Thames - just below the Aldwych. It has a very long and complicated history and was once one of the Royal Palaces. It was built in 1547 and was subsequently altered and added to by both Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones.

Queen Elizabeth I lived there when her sister Mary was the Queen and Oliver Cromwell lay in state here before his funeral. The Royal Academy of Arts had its first home here and for very many years it was the home of the Royal Society, the Navy Board, the Inland Revenue and the Stamp Office and was the place where all the details of births marriages and deaths were lodged.

Latterly it's become a centre for the visual arts, music and film. The Courtauld Institute of Art, including the Courtauld Gallery, now occupy space here plus there are workshops and learning ppportunities.

There is also a gallery in the Terrace Rooms which currently has an exhibition of Richard Bryant’s Photographic Celebration of a City until 8 March 2009. It's open daily 10.00-18.00, Thursday lates till 21.00 except 27 November till 18.00. Terrace Rooms, free entry. It's well worth a look if you are in the area


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Anyone for skating?

Somerset House Ice Rink
pencil and coloured pencils in sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I visited Somerset House a little while as they were setting up the outdoor ice rink. It wasn't yet open but it had some people skating nevertheless. Unfortunately I found it completely impossible to find anywhere you could see what was going on while outside - so retreated back inside Somerset House and found a staircase with a window which let me look down on the rink and the skaters. However it did mean I had to sketch standing up which severely limits my sketching time so I think I need to get out and see a few more rinks!

Judging by the photograph on the Somerset House Ice Rink website I maybe ought to try going back after dark!

The best rink in London for looking down on skaters is the one at the Natural History Museum as it has a great viewing platform.

The other one I can get to easily is the ice rink at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich - but that's not taking place this year for some reason - which is a pity as it's a good one for seeing skaters up close. See Boxing Day ice skating at Greenwich

Monday, December 01, 2008

A new blog called Watermarks

Baga Beach, Goa
Pencil and watercolour in sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Watermarks is a new team blog for a small community of artists who create art from water - and I'm one of them! This blog is going to be linked to it as this is the blog in which I post most of my sketches and drawings of water.

We're a group of nine artists who like to sketch, draw and/or paint all forms of water - the sea, the coastline, beaches, rivers, streams, waterfalls, fountains - in all styles, genres and media. The people involved are
  • Vivien Blackburn - who loves painting at the coast and who came up with the bright idea for the blog
  • Laura Frankstone - who this year has been developing a project all about water
  • Gesa Helms - who does seascapes and see studies
  • Jeanette Jobson - who has the Atlantic providing a backdrop to her everyday life in Newfoundland
  • Tina Mammoser - who continues to develop her English Coastlines project
  • Lindsay Olson - who has been working on a waterways project
  • Sarah Wimperis - who moved to Cornwall this year and is painting the Helford River and its boats as well as parts of the coastline of Cornwall
  • Ronell van Wyk - who lives right next to the River Loire in France
  • and me - and I live very close to the Thames and sketch it often, plus I'm very partial to a nice lake or canal!
In the next week, there will a series of posts on the blog introducing all the members of the team. It's actually very interesting how many of us either live near to a major mass of water or have lived very close to water in the past.

Our main aims are to use our brand new group blog to:
  • display our works in progress as well as art as it is completed
  • highlight other artists (past and present) whose art involves water
  • highlight exhibitions of relevant artwork and
  • discuss media matters and tips and techniques for creating art out of water
You can see photos and drawings of the members in Welcome to Watermarks. You'll also find links to all our individual blogs in the sidebar plus links to various drawing and painting projects and series we've undertaken in the past.

What do you think of the idea and the new blog? Do come and visit and tell us what you think.

[Note: One December morning a long time ago I did the sketch at the top while sitting on Baga Beach in Goa. It's one of a few of the watercolour sketches that I've ever done in the past which I like! ]

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Trees at Tate Modern

Yellow Silver Birches and the Thames (at Tate Modern)
8.5" x 11.5", pencil and coloured pencil in Daler Rowney sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Yesterday, after I heard Cin's news (see end of story), I had that 'there's no time to lose' feeling - and saw three exhibitions in one day, sketched the Thames from both sides of the river and finished up buying some books about Edward Seago. Keeping busy also seems to help when you have very sad news.

I remember watching Melvyn Bragg's amazing interview with an incredibly lucid and articulate Dennis Potter just before Potter died of cancer of the liver/pancreas. He was swigging morphine for the pain, announcing he had christened his tumour Rupert (after Rupert Murdoch who he detested) and talked about his plays and how he was was in a rush to make sure he could finish his last plays.

He also described how his senses were heightened by the news that he didn't have long left and how he was finding he noticed things in a completely new way. I'll never forget how he described the blossom which he saw outside his window in Ross-on-Wye as being
"...the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be".

I suspect the same thing happens to many people who know somebody who's dying or has just died. I know it always happens to me - and it's always about the visual.

Yesterday, I had lunch in the restaurant on the 7th floor of the Tate Modern. It has the most spectacular view of the City of London skyline.

As I looked out the window, my eye kept being drawn by the intense yellow leaves of the silver birches which are planted in serried ranks in the forecourt of the Tate.

The trees had been demanding to be noticed from the point when I'd sat on the other side of the Thames sketching. Having noticed the trees yet again, I had to try and draw the trees - and the wash from the boats which juxtaposed wonderful diagonal lines against the slim white trunks of the birches.

This is a drawing for Cin as she can't come and share the view right now.

[ UPDATE: Cindy Woods - learning daily (1956-2008) ]

Monday, November 17, 2008

Renaissance Faces - in my sketchbook

A Laughing Boy (Henry VIII) attributed to Georgio Mazzoni
11" x 8", pencil in sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I visited the Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian at the National Gallery last week and took my sketchbook and a pencil into the exhibition. The exhibition covers faces in paintings created in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This is the result.

The drawing at the top is of a gilded sculpture of what is called A Laughing Boy but is understood to be a cast of the young Henry VIII (one of those ones where they have to stick tubes up your nose). Quite how they managed the laughing mouth is beyond me. It's an impressive piece and was interesting to draw and make 3D into 2D.

LEFT: Saint Constance, called ‘The Beautiful Florentine’, about 1450–75
by the Circle of Desiderio da Settignano (about 1430–1464)
RIGHT: Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife by Jan Van Eyck 1434
pencil and coloured pencils in sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

The piece above left is a wooden sculpture bust which normally lives in The Louvre. She's supposed to be an ideal of female beauty in the fifteenth century and is the starting point of the exhibition.

There are lots and lots of famous artists and famous paintings in the exhibition and one of them is Jan Van Eyck's painting of Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife - painted in 1434. This is the painting which is sometimes referred to as the Arnolfini Marriage

I'll be writing about the exhibition of Making A Mark tomorrow [UPDATE: see Renaissance Faces at the National Gallery]

Monday, November 10, 2008

People watching and sketching - outside Tate Modern

Bankside people
8" x 10", pen and ink in Moleskine
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

A great place in London for watching and sketching people is the space just outside Tate Modern.

In the summer, if you sit on the ledge which runs between the silver birch borders you can face Tate Modern and sketch people sitting and lying on the grass between the museum and the Thames Path (see right)

Outside Tate Modern #1
(or what to draw in the summer
when life class is on holiday)

11" x 8"pen and ink
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

At other times of year you can sketch people sitting and standing on Thames Path (the 'Bankside' section) next to the River Thames (see above).

Plus if it rains you can always dive Tate Modern until it stops!

I like to focus on postures rather than features. It's all about how they distribute their weight.

I've summarised my other tips for sketching people in 10 Tips for How to Sketch People

I also like to write down 'odd things' that I hear people saying in my sketchbook. The statement in the bottom right hand corner of my recent sketch (at top) came from a young person with a mobile phone who walked past me. Obviously not everybody knows what's in that big building next to the Millenium Bridge!
Hello Hun, I'm in front of this big building with paintings on the wall
Overheard while sketching at Bankside
Hanging the Street Art exhibition, Tate Modern
(from the Millenium Bridge)
photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Sketching the Still Life

Still life at the ROI
10" x 8", pencil and coloured pencils

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

One of my favourite places for sketching people is the Mall Galleries. There are always people moving around the gallery looking at paintings and it's a great place, as all galleries are, to practice 'catching' people in a sketch before they move on.

However what I really like about the Mall Galleries is that in the middle of the gallery there are tables and chairs for people taking a break and a refreshment facility where I can get an excellent cup of tea and a blueberry muffin! As regular readers will know by know I do sketch an awful lot while on a tea break or eating lunch!

I paid a belated visit yesterday to see the Annual Exhibition of the The Royal Institute of Oil Painters. While sat having my cup of tea after touring the exhibition, I spotted this chap studying some still life paintings and managed to get him sketched in before he moved on. I then added the paintings on the wall to the sketch, then added values and a lot of colour notes to the sketch before completing the saturation at home.

One of the interesting things about the Mall Galleries is it's not uncommon to see other people also sketching and/or artists paying a visit. I spotted my gentleman model a little later making a drawing in a small sketchbook of the paintings he had been studying - so I sketched him again.

Sketching the Still Life
7" x 5", pencil in DR sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This sketch is unfinished as somebody sat down to have his cup of tea and unfortunately was right in my line of sight.

The camaraderie of fellow sketchers came to the fore and my gentleman model came over to see what I was up to and was very pleased with the result! It turned out he was an oil painter who loves painting still lifes hence why he was studying the still life paintings. He and his brother make a trip to London once a year from Bath to see the annual exhibition of the ROI at the Mall Galleries.

We had a bit of a discussion as to whether the 'somebody' who had obscured my view was Trevor Chamberlain or not - and it turned out that in fact it was! Trevor Chamberlain ROI, RSMA is a member of the Council of the ROI and an ex Vice President of the RPI. and past President of the Wapping Group of Artists and past President of Chelsea A.S.

You can read a review of the exhibition - The Royal Institute of Oil Painters - 121st Annual Exhibition - on my other blog Making A Mark.

The Royal Institute of Oil Painters Annual Exhibition continues until 1pm on Sunday 9th November 2008 and is open 10am-5pm daily including weekends. It's at the Mall Galleries, The Mall (near Trafalgar Square), London SW1.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Drawing on the London Tube

I like drawing on the tube but I find it works best and I can do slightly longer drawings (up to 10 minutes) if:
  • I've got a corner seat
  • I've remembered to include the small sketchbook
  • The people opposite are absorbed in a book - or just taking some 'time out'.
  • .....and, ideally, it's not the rush hour (ie nobody is standing and I've got a much better view of fellow travellers)
I tend to try and draw people about 8-10 feet away so that my sketching doesn't crowd their space. People who are nearer tend to work out what I'm doing. Plus I'm generally working on about two or three at the same time.

7" x 5", pencil in Derwent Safari sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I really enjoyed sketching this lady. She had that oh so typical tube pose of arms folded across her chest and eyes closed. Plus she was great at sitting still!

I also really like it when my subject is wearing something with interesting folds and creases. If I have the time and the opportunity, I tend to work up the head using value hatching and then work the clothing just using line.

This post is also being posted on Urban Sketchers

Friday, October 31, 2008

Meet a correspondent for Urban Sketchers

Yesterday I was featured on the new Urban Sketchers team blog and today I'm featuring an introduction to Urban Sketchers on my main blog - see Urban Sketchers officially starts tomorrow.

I thought I'd give readers of this blog a bit of an insight into where I'm planning to go with my posts about London plus the story behind the photo of me which appears on the Urban Sketchers post about me.

The photo

Gabi, who created Urban Sketchers, told me he needed a paragraph, a sketch and a photo of me for an introduction. I looked at all recent photos of me and concluded that although they were realistic and useful for sending to fellow sketchbloggers that I was meeting up with for the first time, they were hardly flattering. They certainly weren't blogging material.

So last week I decided a new photo was needed - at which point I got the most dreadful head cold - and you all know how you look when you have a cold! So I crossed my fingers and hoped it would clear up quickly and thought about how to do a photograph.

On Wednesday, I was over the worst of the cold and "he who must not be bored while I sketch" (HWMNBB) and I went across to Greenwich for the afternoon for a brisk walk in the park and an hour with the books in Waterstones.

I'd had the 'brilliant' idea that since this new team blog was about Urban Sketchers I should try and get a photo of me at the top of the hill in Greenwich Park, next to the Observatory - standing on the Prime Meridian with a goodish chunk of the River Thames and London behind me. Neat idea - huh?

Plan of Greenwich Park - showing all major buildings
and the Prime Meridian (re Greenwich Mean time)
(click to see larger version)

There was a slight flaw with this plan. HWMNBB is not, he will readily admit, a photographer. But I'd already worked out how to deal with that. I'd take a photo of him to judge where I should stand and how he should focus on me. That took three photos. Then he was to take over and reproduce the shot with me in his place.

Well that took about ten photos. First he took photos before I was ready. Then I realised that my hair looked a state as I'd just pulled off my hat (it was a cold afternoon). Then he couldn't get the size of my head right relative to the back drop (options of lots of sky or lots of park at this stage). Then I decided that the post 'bad head cold' look meant a slightly more distant view might be better after all............on the other hand then you couldn't see me either..........

We had by now gathered a small audience of teenage girls who were thoroughly intrigued by what was going on. Oh the joys of having one's photo taken in public!

Fortunately I decided that it might be an idea to try some smiling (with/without teeth), non smiling and profile shots. It was a good job too! Somehow he'd omitted to mention that I'd managed to get lipstick all over my teeth ( I only usually wear lipstick for photos!) and the smiling without teeth ones made my eyes look dreadfully small with puffy bags!

Fortunately the profile one came out OK and even managed to obscure the bags and do a good job of hiding my double chin.........

Photo of a fusspot with a cold
by "he who must not be bored
while I sketch and is never ever
taking another photograph again!!!"

So this is me - with the River Thames and City of London appearing just above my fringe and Greenwich Park and the Queens House behind my head.

Incidentally the walkways with the columns either side of the Queens House (the white house designed by Inigo Jones just to the right of my bun) is the place where the BBC filmed Amy Dorrit (for the new series Little Dorrit) walking against a backdrop of columns in the first episode last Sunday.

Just behind it and next to the river is the old Royal Naval College, designed as a naval hospital in the 17th century by Sir Christopher Wren which is also frequently in use as a film set. Then beyond these buildings and on the other wide of the river you can see the new financial centre at Canary Wharf which was filmed extensively as the credit crunch erupted in Britain last month.

Blogging about London

I'm thinking of trying to develop a panorama of sketches of the two sides of the Thames and wondering whether I should invest in one of those panorama Moleskines. Either that or lots of separate sketches in the same format which join up. But what's the best format? I'm mulling that one over.

I also want to produce a book of where to sketch in London and I intend to develop a series of hand drawn maps of locations - showing places to go to sketch and what you can see nearby. I'll be reserving the maps for the book but I do already try and provide links to Google Maps for locations.

I'm also going to be developing a map of locations where I've sketched - although I'm not quite sure whether I'm going to use geograph or paintmap. I'll be reporting back on my comparison of the two systems and any other options which people alert me to.

If anybody has any comments or recommendations about software I'd love to hear them - please use the comments function.

Links: Meet the correspondents: LONDON > Katherine Tyrrell

Thursday, October 23, 2008

RWS Friends: Sketching at the Royal Festival Hall

Last Sunday, I joined the RWS Friends Group for the first time on a Sketching Day and visited the Royal Festival Hall.

A slice of Westminster and the London Eye
11" x 16", pencil and coloured pencils
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I turned up at 11.00am duly carrying my portfolio so that hopefully somebody would recognise me as 'belonging' to their group. It worked a treat and I got a very warm welcome from Libby who was organising the day.

We sketched until lunchtime, then had lunch in the Riverside Terrace Cafe, followed by another sketching session after lunch for those who wanted to stay on.

I went up to the fifth floor balcony at the front of the building. There's an excellent view of the Houses of Parliament - and a chunk of The London Eye.

I'd taken my new large sketchbook - and I'm inclined to now think it's too large. The reason being that getting a good saturation of colour on the paper was more difficult than with the sketchbooks I normally use.

Embankment Place from the Royal Festival Hall (with a front!)
pen and ink and coloured pencils in A3 sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I got three sketches done in total, two before and one after lunch. For the first two I was entertained by a 'salsa' band playing on the Riverside Terrace under the railway bridge.
Looking down into the Skylon Restaurant, Royal Festival Hall
8.5" x 11.5", pencil and coloured pencils in Daler Rowney sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Note: You can find out more about RWS Friends on the Bankside Gallery (under supporting the gallery/Friends) and the RWS website here. Monthly sketching trips are planned - the next three will be to Somerset House, the Victoria and Albert Museum and Spitalfields.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Travels with a sketchbook - in the South of England

Top L to R: Munstead Woods; Penshurst Place
Bottom L to R: Fields to the rear of Sissinghurst Castle Garden - in Spring and Autumn

This post lists all those posts which relate to places - and gardens in particular - in the South of England outside London.

Counties are listed alphabetically. The posts are then listed in the order they were published except where there are a group belonging to one place (eg Sissinghurst) in which case those are grouped together. The images all come from the posts listed.

This summary will be updated periodically with posts as they are added to the blog. It will also be listed in the right hand column of this blog.

Berkshire & Buckinghamshire

East Sussex

Great Dixter

Sheffield Park




Emmetts Garden

Great Comp

Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Knole House and Park

Penshurst Place

Groombridge Place


Hampton Court Palace

RHS Wisley

Munstead Wood

West Sussex

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Evening light in St James Park

St James Park - Tree Study #3 (8th October, 6pm)
8.5" x 11", coloured pencils in Daler Rowney sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I went to the RHS Autumn Harvest Show at the Horticultural Halls yesterday. This year they have incorporated a number of different shows and competitions under one roof. These include the Vegetable Container Competition and competitions including fruit and vegetable, British national carnation society and an ornamental plant competition. I spent quite a bit of time in the Lindley Hall looking at the best and biggest vegetables!

a group of vegetables at the RHS Autumn Harvest Show
photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell

In the main hall they had a display of photograph relating to plants and I came across a very unusual and impressive development by one exhibitor which I'll be writing more about on Making A Mark in due course.

After buying some deep dark red lilies at the end of the show I then walked to the tube with these (all 3 feet of them). I was very grateful for the fact that I'd remembered this time to go to the last day of an RHS show suitably equipped with bags - which was a good thing as I decided to take advantage of the light and take the long way home via scenes of the setting sun in St James Park.

Like all the parks, St James Park is a great place in central London to draw trees as you can get a good distance from them and see their forms much more clearly. Plus you also get banks of trees which look great when the colour varies across the bank.

I knew the setting sun should give some good evening light on the trees but wasn't quite sure where it would look best - until I found this spot (see sketch at top). I didn't have the time to get all the colours down as the light was changing fast. Instead I used a pencil to get the main shapes and forms down and then annotated the entire sketch with colour notes. When I got home I had dinner and then proceeded to translate the colour using coloured pencils - and judicious use of the battery powered eraser for texture!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Product review: The Derwent Safari Journal

Derwent recently sent me a Safari Journal which I took out last week for a trial run. It's probably best if I start by saying something about what I look for in a sketchbook - as I'm a bit picky!

I like my sketchbooks to:
  • lie flat easily as I often work across a double page spread. Which basically rules out wire bound sketchbooks and any where some or all the pages fall out as soon as you crack the spine and force the sketchbook to lie flat. What seems to work best are the stitched sketchbooks.
  • be big enough and small enough. Size is a very personal issue - how big does it need to be? It all depends on the size you like working - and how you carry your sketching tool kit. If you're a "slip it in the pocket with pen or pencil" type then you probably like your sketchbooks to be on the small size. If it has to fit into your everyday handbag/holdall then obviously you can go larger. Personally speaking I'm a "kitchen sink merchant" who collects rucksacks like other people collect handbags and salivates over clothes with zipped pockets for secreting all sorts of useful things like battery powered erasers while out on sketching expeditions! So - on the whole - I tend towards being happier with a larger sketchbook. However the ideal sketchbook is the size which can go anywhere without me having to think too hard about how to carry it - and smaller than ideal seems to leave home more often.
  • have paper which works well with my media. It might seem an obvious thing to say but in discussions with people I often find people buy sketchbooks because they like the look of them. Personally speaking I can't buy them unless I've got the cellophane off and can feel the paper. Yes, I'm that funny person over in the corner in the art shop surreptitiously running my finger tips very lightly over the paper to feel how it's been made and pressed. The reality is some paper just sets my teeth on edge and I can't work on it at all. I'm looking for a plate feel finish on a paper which can absorb and deliver saturated colour. It has to work with pen and ink and a dancing line - as well as with graphite and coloured pencils, burnishing and erasing with a battery powered eraser - and not become abraded in the process. I don't need it to work with watercolour as I don't tend to use it - and tend to leave other people to do those reviews.........but I've had a little go with this one! ;)
So - what are the features of the Derwent Journal?

Overall it looks remarkably like a Moleskine with a few differences. The question is - how important are those differences to a dedicated Moleskine user like me?

Design: Anybody who has a Moleskine will recognise this straight away. Rounded edges on front and back covers - good because they then don't get damaged and bent back when tucked into any sort of space available. A nice big fat expanding pocket at the back for 'things' (so useful when it comes to tickets and mementoes!) plus they go one better and have a smaller one at the front as well. I missed the 'in case of loss' printed info bit on the first page. I'd have happily given up a page for this - as I tend to record what's in the sketchbook on that page - but I'd started my sketch before I realised!

Cover: The cover is designed as a tactile faux animal hide and it comes in two shades warm terracotta and rich earth. It's jolly nice to the touch but feels like it would be heard wearing. It also has one of those elasticated bands (like the Moleskine) which keeps it shut when not in use. I think the should be mandatory on all sketchbooks as they avoid paper being damaged inadvertently.

Derwent's website tells me that each journal contains 80 sheets of high quality, 200 gsm acid-free cartridge paper. For American readers cartridge paper is a high quality drawing paper - and there'll a post about its origins and other uses on my other blog Making A Mark later today. (see What is Cartridge Paper?)

The paper has a slight creamy colour which will be very familiar to those using Moleskines. It's very smooth but I have a slight feeling that it is not quite as 'bond' like as I like it and it's weight suggests it's lighter than the 250gsm paper used in a Moleskine - which I really like. I think the Moleskine might also be just a teeny weeny bit smoother.

Media - pencils:

The Ecology Park Pond - pencil study
pencil, 6.7" x 9.25"
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This journal's paper takes pencil very well indeed. I was using a mechanical pencil with a slightly soft lead to get a good range of values in my sketch of the willows around the the bridge over what the park authority call a lake - and what I call a pond - in the local Ecology Park.

A quick tip for those out with only pen and pencil to hand. Write out colours on your sketches. Those light coloured reed in the centre have an annotation of "zinc yellow"!

On the next nice day I'll take a trip back to try this sketch again in coloured pencils!

Media - pen and ink: I tried a pen and ink sketch of the Regents Canal just north of the Old Ford Lock. There's a nice wall for parking oneself on while sketching the canal and the barges.

The Regents Canal looking towards the Approach Road Bridge entrance to Victoria Park
pen and sepia ink, 6.7" x 9.25"
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

My feeling is that it's well suited to pen and ink work. The paper did not abrade with repeated hatching and the surface was smooth enough to enable me to work quickly

While processing my sketch in PS I discovered that the format of a double page spread gives you a perfect 5x7 aspect ratio! A double page spread actually measures 6.7" x 9.25" - but the ratio is the important bit if you use it for large thumbnail sketches before embarking on a larger drawing plein air or back in the studio.

Media - pen and ink and coloured pencils: my very first sketch was actually of the Arts Pavilion in the Arts Park in Mile End Park - which turned into a bit of a mess - I should remember not to do reversed out neon signs! However, the mix of pen and ink and coloured pencils worked just fine.

Similarly, laying down coloured pencils for the next test back home also suggested that this paper is very receptive to coloured pencils.

Media - watercolour: The type of paper suggests that it's propobably not suitable for 'proper' watercolour - like the Moleskine sketchbook. So I tested it for a modified form of watercolour.

Rather than proper watercolour paint and a proper brush, I used my watercolour pencils to create a swatch of colour and a waterbrush. A very light application of water over half of the swatch does not cause the paper to buckle. Adding water via the waterbrush created a pretty good intensity of colour if not too much was added to the pencil marks. Saturation could be lightened by brushing out the colour across the page without the paper buckling. See the swatch to see what I mean.

You can also see where I used a battery powered eraser to remove both pure watercolour pencil and WC pencil converted to a wash from the paper. The paper stands up well to the rapid abrasion from the eraser and allowed me to remove colour almost back to the pure natural colour of the paper - only a slight tinge remained. Unfortunately once water has been applied the removal is both less obvious and less successful.

Overall though it looks as if this journal is much better suited to dibble dabble using a water brush and/or dry brush watercolour rather than saturating paper and working wet in wet. Try the latter and no matter how heavy this paper is my guess is it will buckle or refuse to accept the watercolour. If you want to use watercolour you must get a sketchbook with proper watercolour paper.

Binding: The journal is stitched and consequently will lie flat - which is great. The real test always comes at the start or the end of a sketchbook when getting it to lie flat is most difficult (OK - I'll be frank "downright irritating" would be more accurate if it doesn't!) but this journal presented no problems on that front.

Overall it looks well made. However there are no perforations and this is not a sketchbook for people who like to remove pages. It's a sketchbook for people like me who like to keep their sketchbooks intact as sketchbooks!

If you want something to use for working drawings to extract and play around with this is not the journal for you

It comes in a choice of two sizes which seem to be variously described depending on where you look on the Derwent website or catalogue. The Medium/Mini - the one I tried - is 120mm x 170mm (that's 4.72in x 6.69in). The Small/Pocket is 90mm x 140mm (3.54in x 5.51in). Frankly the latter is far to small for me - and I'd be far more likely to use a larger size - if it existed.

The Medium is smaller than the larger Moleskine - and in some ways that makes it a more attractive proposition as a 'small' sketchbook compared to the larger sketchbook Moleskine is just a little too large for the handbag scenario. Personally speaking I find the small size of the Derwent Dafai Journal just a tad too small for me - but as I indicated earlier that's always very much an issue of personal preference.

Price: I note that Artifolk are selling these journals online for £6.99 for the small size and £8.99 for the Medium Size. I'm guessing you may see them at various prices in the shops - depending where your local retail version of heaven is.

Overall - I think this is a good quality product which will suit people who like to keep proper journals of times in their life or their travels. However, it's too expensive for people who just need some paper to try out roughs and i's not appropriate for people who want to do serious and/or 'wet' watercolour and/or want to remove their work from the stitched journal.

I'll certainly continue to use this Derwent Safari Journal and will add it into my basic toolkit - and I'll also report back again when I've finished it - I have a sneeking suspicion it's going to be the perfect size for the pocket of my heavy duty cold weather anorak.

I think on the whole the Moleskine continues to have the slight edge for me when I'm carrying a backpack - mainly because of the paper which has proved to be very reliable and very suitable for the media I use. However I couldn't find a Moleskine I'd happily use this instead and I think people who like slightly smaller sketchbooks would find it a good size.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The RHS at the Inner Temple

The RHS at the Inner Temple
11" x 16", coloured pencils in Daler Rowney sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Last week I went to the RHS Floral Celebration in the gardens of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple - one of the four Inns of Court, where you normally find lots of barristers.

The show celebrated the return of the RHS to the Inner Temple after more than 90 years. Between 1888 and 1911 it hosted 24 flower shows (pre-Chelsea). You can read more about the History and background of the Inner Temple show but BEWARE it's a 2MB pdf file.

There were over 30 floral exhibitors - you can see some of the ones that were in the marquee. Due to the past associations it was interesting to see some of exhibitors had historical displays. I really enjoyed Pennard Plants display of period vegetables and historic gardening items.

The photo on the right is of a display of Chilli Plants done in theatre style - which I always thought was just done for auriculas (as in the Auricula Theatres at Calke Abbey and the National Botanic Garden for Wales)

My sketch was done from the Broad Walk at the Embankment end of the garden where they had erected the tea tents - looking back to the Inner Temple grounds and the marquees. Now - I have a confession to make which is that no matter how much I worked on this sketch I could't get the value difference between tree and background - so I tweaked it in PS and it's now much better! ;) I suspect it's the paper - I've had problems before when I've wanted a really strong dark value..

The Inner Temple reminds me very much of the colleges from my time in Cambridge - and all the people I knew who left there to go and become barristers in very similar surroundings in London. I went to go and look for an old barrister friend who I'd not seen in 'forever' and found his name was now very near the top of the listing at the entrance to his chambers - but I guess it would be given he's now been there for over 30 years!

This year, the Inner Temple is celebrating its 400th anniversary with the Temple Festival - running all year. Some of the famous people who became members of the Inner Temple during that period include Sir Francis Drake, Judge Jeffreys, James Boswell, Bram Stoker, Gandhi and Jinnah and Nehru, John Maynard Keynes, AJP Taylor and John Mortimer (and Horace Rumpole)!

The Temple Garden is normally open to the public on week days between 12.30pm and 3pm. A plan of the garden is available on the website.

The construction of the Victoria Embankment at Temple, London 1865
Image from Wikimedia Commons

The boundary of the garden - the Broad Walk - has a line of very old plane trees. I think they must have been planted after the Embankment was constructed in the nineteenth century. On the right is an image of the construction. The section in the foreground is near the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple. Somerset House is in the background. The bridge is the old version of Waterloo Bridge.

I wonder if they started having the flower shows there after the garden was extended?


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Greenwich - very nearly sitting on zero

Nearly sitting on zero
(The Greenwich Observatory and the Prime Meridien)
pencil and coloured pencils in sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Greenwich is a world heritage site with a wonderful mix of the historical, the maritime and the scientific. On Friday last week we went to visit the National Maritime Museum in the Royal Park in Greenwich. After the museum closed, I sat behind the Museum and the covered walkway which connects it to the Queens House and looked up at Greenwich Park and sketched the Royal Observatory on top of the hill - which is where the Prime Meridian lies - hence the title 'Very nearly sitting on Zero'.

Prime Meridian and the Royal Observatory

For anybody not familiar with the Prime Meridian this is the meridian (line of longitude) at which longitude is defined to be 0°.
Every place on Earth is measured in terms of its distance east or west from the Greenwich Meridan. The line itself divides the eastern and western hemispheres of the Earth, just as the Equator divides the northern and southern hemispheres.
Royal Observatory - Meridien Line
I keep having a go at trying to work out exactly where the meridian goes and whether or not my home lies on it too. For a long time I rather suspected my home was just off it and that it actually runs through the site of the Olympics in 2012 to the east of me.

This time when I got back I checked it on Google Earth and I was right. It runs north from the Observatory - to the right of the Isle of Dogs (where Canary Wharf is) - just to the left of the former Millennium Dome/O2 Arena and then goes straight up the site of the 2012 Olympics and exits from land through Hull!

The really weird thing is that it crosses straight through the southern entrance/exit to the Blackwall Tunnel - and I never knew all these years that I've been driving back and to through it!

National Maritime Museum
The Maritime galleries deal with Britain's encounter with the world at sea from the 16th to the early 20th centuries.
National Maritime Museum website
I hadn't been to the Maritime Museum for very many years and always remembered it as being very boring. However it's now apparently a top attraction for families after a transformation. "He who must not be bored while I sketch" found it really interesting whereas I now rate it as 'quite interesting' - given this is essentially "boy's toys" stuff!

We only scraped the surface of what is there but the bit I liked the best of what we saw was the display about the London Docks - then and now - in Maritime London. It was also rather amazing to be able to see, in Nelson's Navy, the uniform that Nelson was wearing when he received the fatal shot which killed him at Trafalgar in 1805 - complete with bullet hole. What was even more amazing was to see drawings, etchings and paintings of the absolutely amazing riverboat procession of Nelson's body from Greenwich up to London for burial.

I thought the maritime paintings were quite weak however I was able to see some of Whistler's Etchings from his Thames series - which I've only seen on the Internet before (see Making a Mark: Whistler Month: The Thames Set, Etching Papers and watermarks). The interesting thing about the etchings was how small they were - I'd no idea and had somehow always assumed that they were much bigger.

You can see all the galleries here - we only scratched the surface.

King Henry VIII and the Palace of Placentia

The Palace of Placentia
A sketch of Greenwich Palace in England published in the Gentlemen's Magazine in 1840.
source: wikimedia commons

We also discovered that the site at the edge of the river is the place where the Palace of Placentia used to be. You can read about it in the Tudors and Stuarts and Greenwich Fact Files.

The Palace of Placentia was an English Royal Palace built in 1447, in Greenwich, right next to the River Thames. The Palace was then demolished in the seventeenth century and replaced with the Greenwich Hospital in the late seventeenth century (which then became the The Royal Naval College and now Greenwich University) .

Cover of Greenwich by Charles Jennings

I've now got a new 'old' paperback called Greenwich - the place where days begin and end by Charles Jennings and will be reading up about all the things that went on there. It's got some very good reviews and I'm quite sure it's going to tell me things which I never knew before - here's just a few of the ones I found out on Friday.

For example, the Palace of Placentia was
  • a principal royal palace for two centuries
  • the birthplace of King Henry VIII and Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I
  • Henry VIII used to spend a lot of time there - jousting in the tilting yards and visiting the Royal Dockyards which were not far away at Deptford.
  • Elizabeth I used to like spending the summer at Greenwich.
I'm going to do some more reading and then I think I might do a series of sketches of Greenwich.