Here it comes…

Autumn Apples blog

Apples (A5 pastel 2015)

…Autumn, that is. It has been, we’re told, a bumper year for apples in the U.K. Well, not in our garden, I’m afraid. These three represent the extent of nature’s bounty in our corner of Suffolk: a Blenheim Orange, a Russet, and an Elstar.

The mildly interesting thing about this little pastel drawing is that I positioned them with the biggest at the back and the smallest at the front. The result being that the perspective looks flattened, an effect I find very pleasing in others.

One of the many things I discovered on Ed Cooper’s inspiring oil painting course was to see objects as blocks of colour and tone, rather than an outline filled with colour. That’s probably glaringly obvious if you went to art college, but something that needs to be understood if you didn’t (I didn’t). The outlines here, such as they are, were added later, as design elements almost.

The King of Bavaria

King blog

Self-portrait as the King of Bavaria (14cms x 12cms coloured pencils 2015)

This is my offering for Teresa Robeson’s #Portrait challenge, who, along with Kirk of Dumb Sketch Daily, has encouraged us to produce a self-portrait and post it on this very day. This is my attempted self-portrait as the King of Bavaria.

Some time ago I went to a dinner party where one of the guests was a PR person who, for most of the evening, completely ignored me. I’ve never worked in PR but I would have thought that the job required an interest in and curiosity about other people: on a purely mercenary level you might meet someone who could become a client. On the drive home I pointed this fact out to my partner and added, “For all he knew I could have been the King of Bavaria.”

So here I am in ermine and crown, a little older-looking and a little plumper than in reality (I hope) from all the cares of ruling an ancient kingdom that stretches from Passau to Wurzburg and the many glasses of Weizenbier I’d be expected to share with my adoring subjects. Keeping Bavaria up to snuff takes its toll, I can tell you.

‘The kid is not [quite] my son…’

Nick blog

Nick (A5 pencil on sketchbook page 2014-15)

In his new book on British portraiture Simon Schama cites some research undertaken at Princeton University that demonstrates

a reading of one 10th of a second is enough for us to decide whether we trust or mistrust a face, whether we want to engage or disengage from a countenance: a mere Tinder-swipe to settle our allegiance into a resolution no mere speech is likely to alter. It is this elementary social wiring that makes portraiture the most basic of all the genres of the visual arts.

He goes on to say: “A portrait must offer a good likeness, so the truism holds. But this raises an enormous question: a likeness of what exactly?…The greatest of all portraitists – a Rembrandt or a Goya – caught their subjects as if temporarily halted between a before and an after; an interruption of the flux of life rather than a becalmed pose.”

In her wonderful book, Drawing and Painting People, which I can’t recommend highly enough for anyone wanting a fresh approach to drawing their own kind, Emily Ball asks:

Should the final piece look like the person in a way that is photographically accurate for it to be a valid likeness? No. Should it be like the person? Yes, although a likeness can be visible in many subtle ways.

The title of this post does not imply any question about the parentage of my dear son, Nick: a comparison of our feet will demonstrate that we share the same gene pool. No, I’m misquoting Michael Jackson to say that I’ve not quite hit the target. Having seen this drawing, you might be able to pick him out of a group of twentysomethings in a crowded room; it also catches something of his humour and his warmth. It doesn’t, I don’t think, quite capture what Emily Ball calls ‘the gaze’: it isn’t quite Nick.

It won’t stop me from trying and trying again until, I hope, one day to have a picture of Nick – or of my daughter, partner, whomever – that actually nails that elusive Something that makes them what they really are.

This is the first of two posts on portraits this week: I have volunteered to join Teresa Robeson’s #Portrait challenge on the 25th.

Junk-food crazed flying devils of the English coasts

Seagulls blog

Seagull sketches  (A5 graphite on A5 sketchbook page 2015)

In England, seagulls have acquired a bad reputation: they steal your ice cream cones and grab your sandwiches; attack children and old people for no obvious reason; crazed on fast food leftovers they swoop down on small dogs and cats and then turn on each other. In Brighton and London there is talk of culling them to reduce the dangers posed by these wild-eyed flying devils with unlimited resources of anger and razor sharp beaks.

Last week we spent some days in North Devon where the seagulls seemed more reasonable. I did spend some time watching three of them sitting on a rowing boat, and whenever a fourth arrived one of the three had to clear off, instead of just rearranging themselves so that all had some private space.

The gulls in these sketches, however, were much more reasonable. Perhaps there are fewer fast food leftovers in North Devon and they’re less brain-damaged by additives and chemicals, but on Woolacombe Beach they seemed to co-exist reasonably enough with us and with each other, picking over pieces of leftover food and the occasional cigarette end without too much aggression. These sketches were each completed in under a minute before they moved on. I thought of polishing them up into finished drawings but they’re reminders, as they stand, of a sunny afternoon on a sandy beach in early September. No dogs, old people or ice cream cones were damaged in the making of these sketches.

‘Mellow Fruitfulness’

Rose Hips 1509 blog

Rose Hips (17cms x 24cms watercolour and ink on Hahnemuehle ‘Leonardo’ watercolour board 2015)

“Good fences make good neighbours,” wrote Robert Frost in Mending Wall. So, when we moved into our house two years ago we planted a line of 100 rosa rugosa shrubs down the middle of the lawn and our neighbour added a wooden fence, thus ensuring harmonious relations from the start.

After the first year I pruned the shrubs back to their stalks. The following spring was a tense time, waiting for signs of life to show. Suddenly, it seemed, about half of them sprouted leaves, then one by one the rest followed until we had a bushy hedge. It was a relief to discover that I hadn’t killed it.

Leaves were followed by buds which opened into blowsy red roses. When their petals fell rich red hips replaced them. Here are a handful picked last weekend and painted while listening to the nature-inspired music of John Luther Adams on BBC Radio 3. The rose hips mark the end of the summer, the beginning of autumn’s “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” (to quote a different poet) before the onset of winter. In East Anglia, with our big open skies, winter can seem very long and very grey, so these vibrant red fruits are things to be treasured.

On Fire Island

Fire Island blog

On Fire Island (A5 ink on sketchbook page 2015)

What are these fellows up to? The last men standing after a boisterous stag night in Dublin? Acrobats in some ill-judged nudist circus?

Far from it. These are Selk’nam people of Tierra del Fuego, or Fire Island, drawn from a photograph taken by Austrian priest and anthropologist, Martin Gusinde, in the 1920s. A nomadic people who survived for over 11,000 years, they were no match for the European settlers who helped themselves to their land in the 19th century. Fairly soon they were being hunted down for bounty until their numbers dwindled to the low hundreds, the last full-blooded Selk’nam dying in 1974.

Martin was a keen photographer and recorded their – to our eyes – strange initiation ceremonies in a series of evocative images. He also recorded their songs and made an attempt to document their language and belief systems.

These two lads are ready for the initiation rituals, sporting some interesting headgear, oblivious not only to Martin and his camera, but also to the climate. That far south, you’d want warm sweaters and a sturdy pair of trousers rather than a thin layer of body paint. I would, anyway.