Drawings of Poland: Sketchbook from 1991

These drawings are once again from the period when I used to carry a big A3, spiral-bound pad and a huge tray of coloured pencils around with me. These days I prefer a much smaller book and content myself with a selection of 7 or 8 colours held in an elastic band, usually watercolour pencils instead.

This top drawing was a cobbled street in the beautiful city of Gdansk. Gdansk was such a surprise to me: those who were around in the early 1980s like me, probably still associate Gdansk with the TV images of the austere, concrete shipyards (and huge moustaches) from the Solidarnosc uprising. But the city itself is full of old, very ornate buildings that reminded me of Amsterdam.

Just after I finished this drawing in the tiny village of Wodzitki, a stork arrived and circled the spire of the lovely wooden church. I think he was eyeing it up as a possible nesting spot: we spotted several massive nests, always perched precariously atop tiny pinnacles.

I don't remember fully appreciating it at the time, but I was in Poland during a very interesting period - immediately after the Warsaw Pact was dissolved, in the summer of 1991. I was travelling around by train and do recall noticing many people on the move.

I stood in the street in Krakow to sketch this - fortunately devoid of traffic. I was drawn to all the subtle colours in the shadows and the over-stuffed notice board.

I also took my A6 sketchbook for quicker work. This is also Krakow: one of the flower sellers under her market awning in the main square.
I particularly enjoyed getting off the beaten track too, taking local buses out into some of the villages, where time seemed to have largely stood still:

I was also struck by the number of massive churches, even in fairly small towns.

One place that sticks in my mind is Prezmysl, where there were so many huge churches on top of one another, it was astonishing that they still required loudspeakers outside, to relay services to those who couldn't fit inside!

By the way: the name Prezmysl is pronounced something like 'P-shemish'. No wonder locals looks non-plussed when I was asking for the right platform for trains to 'Prez-mizzle'!

You can see all my sketchbooks, past and present, here on my website.

Walking at Chatsworth

There is a big stately home called Chatsworth House just outside Sheffield, belonging to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. I've never been much taken with the house itself, but we often walk in the massive grounds, where there's a lovely wide river and you can watch deer and sheep grazing.

There's also a rather unusual hunting lodge, high on a hill. We stopped for a breather beside it, and I drew this rather smart cannon:

Changing the Telegraph Pole

A while ago, I heard lots of noise outside the house, so I stopped what I was doing and ran to find out what was going on. There was a massive lorry parked up right outside, and several men in hard hats milling about. They were replacing the telegraph pole directly in front of our house!

Now, I'm always partial to bits of machinery in action, and men at work, well, you've got to watch haven't you?

It was a sufficiently unusual occurrence, that I thought it warranted documenting, so I rushed back upstairs and got my little sketchbook. I was so glad I did.

It went on for ages, so I was able to do sketch after sketch, peering out at them from our front bedroom window, the perfect vantage point. Everything was continually moving, so I had to be pretty snappy, which is always excellent practice.

And the proof of that, is that I think you can see from the sketches (which I've put in order) that I'm getting better as I go along. These final two are much the strongest of the series - I definitely warmed up!

This last is them finally lowering the new pole into position:

Archive 2: On to Inner Mongolia

As an extension of my time in China (see Archive 1), I took a long-distance bus into Inner Mongolia, to stay in the lamasery village of Taersi. I was a little apprehensive about how the monks would take to being drawn. Would they consider it an insult?

The streets were mud but the temples were all very impressive: high walls broken by huge, decorative gateways with great, studded doors, through which you passed into a series of painted, wooden buildings and stone courtyards. The spaces were full of monks and pilgrims praying and prostrating themselves to the accompaniment of much chanting and banging of gongs.

To my delight, nobody seemed to mind me sketching, not even when I drew them. In fact I was occasionally offered brief smiles between prostrations, and those who came to watch gave me the 'thumbs-up' sign: very odd coming from a robed monk!

These monks were in the middle of a ceremony, wearing bright yellow, woollen caps with high mohicans on top. I was sitting just off the courtyard, sketching them, when another monk came over, smiled a greeting and gave me a single walnut. Later on, a different monk also made me the gift of a small pear. I felt honoured and rather thrilled to be accepted.

In another courtyard, I found lines of brightly decorated, red barrels suspended from a beam with axles through their centres. These were prayer-wheels, sending up a prayer each time someone gave them a spin.

This long, low building was set apart from the others up a hill. Inside was a single long hall containing the monastery's yak-butter sculptures. They were intricately carved and brightly painted, making it difficult to tell they were made of butter, were it not for the uncomfortably clammy, sweet smell that filled the place, making it difficult to stay for very long. Hence no sketch!

Venice Sketchbook

This time last year I was in Venice. It was my first time and we spent a whole week just wandering the streets.

It was of course perfect for sketching, although I was a bit intimidated by the fact that everything had been drawn so many times before, and so very beautifully!

I think this one of my favourites from the trip, drawn from Ponte S. Polo. Just a simple detail: sometimes that's easier to tackle than anything too grand.

We found a tiny local bar, called Ai Artisti, where we spent several early evenings, before finding a restaurant for a meal. We liked the fact the locals obviously used it.

This is my hubby John, well half of John anyway.

One night we messed up and couldn't get a meal, so just stayed and had a very decent pasta in the bar as well: simple fare, simply served, but in many ways much nicer than something more fancy.

We took the obligatory ferry trip out to the islands. Most people know
Murano, because of the glass, but there is also Burano, with a fascinating lace museum. I loved the modern, very illustrative lace samples, as much as the traditional styles.

There was so much to see, but I was drawn to three elderly ladies hunched in the window, actually making lace in the traditional way, over a bolster. I signed 'is it ok?' and then drew this portrait.

They were bowled over. They fetched the security guard to take a photocopy of the sketch to keep, that they asked me to sign. It was one of those lovely bonding moments that you sometimes get with sketching, all the more poignant when you don't share language.

This was the water-bus driver, on the run from to Burano to Murano. It was freezing and took ages! My favourite things on Murano were the glass chandeliers. They were bonkers - very colourful and completely over the top! We chanced upon some men blowing the glass and watched then through an open workshop door for a few minutes, trying to guess what they were making.

Of course, no sketchbook would be complete without at least one gondolier! They were dreadfully tricky though, as they never seemed to stand still. The call was: 'Gondola, gondola, gondola!', so fast it was one word.

If you enjoyed this post, you might be interested in my short film about how and why I keep sketchbooks, or looking through some sketches from my other travels.

Archive 1: Colour Sketches in China

Nowadays it is rare for me to work in colour when I am out and about, but there was a time when I used to take a big tray of coloured pencils and an A3, spiralbound sketchbook out with me. It meant I could do gloriously rich drawings, compared to the simple pencil sketches I do currently, but it did involve being loaded down, so ruled out drawing on a whim, or surreptitiously.

These are drawings done on site during a trip to China in 1987. The top is of course a gate in The Forbidden City in Beijing. The one above was a butchers shop in the city of Chengdu.

It was a very interesting place to draw, not just because it was so colourful and so visually different, but also because the Chinese people were absolutely fascinated and crowded round to watch. This proved to be one of the most challenging aspects though: within seconds, whatever I was trying to sketch was always obliterated by onlookers!

For this reason, I was pleased that I took my little A6 book too. This was a street cleaner in Wuhan. Again though, I was lucky to get the secret viewpoint of a hotel window, which had a handy view down onto a main street.

This last was in the city of Xi'an. I was looking down on a lunch restaurant, from a vantage point on top of the Drum Tower. I got several minutes of peaceful concentration before somebody looked up and spotted me.

I would very much like to go back to China 30 years on, as I know many things will have changed beyond recognition. It would be interesting to see if more contact with the West has diluted bystander interest at all!

On my website, there are more drawings from China, or take a peek inside some of my other sketchbooks, such as those from my travels, to countries like Namibia, Vietnam, Australia and various places all over Europe.

Plus, if you want to hear more about how I draw, take a look at one of my short videos.

Stockport Schools Book Award

I just got sent this lovely photo, taken by one of the Stockport SLS librarians, of myself and Julia Jarman with the book that won. It was taken after the award ceremony, relaxing in the bar (hence the wine!).

If you want to read more about the award ceremony, see I Have Won An Award!!!

Sketching in Low Light

When you are trying to draw in poor light, you often can't make out detail. I was experimenting here with a slightly different, looser technique, looking more at light and shade, and general shapes, than at lines, edges and detail.

The result is more impressionistic than my usual approach and the more extreme markmaking adds a certain drama I think.

Sketching Riveaux Abbey's Ruins

If you've been reading my main blog lately, you'll know that I was excited to discover Urban Sketchers recently. If you haven't seen their site already, do take a look.

Seeing their work has inspired me to post some more of my sketchbook drawings here. It does seem a shame to have them all trapped in closed books on my shelf. I will scan a few in from time to time, when I have a moment.

These 3 are from a visit to Riveaux Abbey in North Yorkshire. Riveaux is a roofless ruin, but with enough interesting stonework and walls still standing, to make it really atmospheric and fun to draw.

I sketch in a 3B pencil. I don't add anything to them later, though now I've seen some of the interesting colour work on the Urban Sketchers site, I might experiment...

Unlike some of the Urban Sketchers, I am insufficiently committed these days to sketch in the rain, or in seriously cold conditions, so these were done in the summer!

A Picture From Amelia!

I have just been sent this fabulous illustration of people queueing at a bus stop. It has been drawn by a very talented little girl, Amelia, from Rivelin Primary School. She is just 7 years old. Is it in oil pastels Amelia?

Impressive eh? I think I will soon have some competition, don't you? Thank you so much Amelia!

Animal Sketching

Roosters are great aren't they? I love the arrogant way they move. Spot the very cute bunny too...

Since I draw so many animals in my picture books, I thought you might like to see some real animal sketches. I have always enjoyed the challenge of drawing animals. I sometimes visit a local city farm to sketch. They rarely keep still for long, so you have to be really quick and work on several drawings at once on the same page. You can see various false starts on this pig page:

Here's some rather festive turkeys, and a goose or two. At least these ones are not for eating! When I was in Namibia, we visited a cheetah sanctuary, which was a wonderful opportunity to draw a creature you wouldn't otherwise get close to. For many years cheetahs have been shot by Namibian farmers, frightened for their livestock. The Cheetah Conservation Centre is trying to persuade farmers to trap them instead, so that they can be released in another area. The cheetahs here were taken in as orphaned pups, unable to survive in the wild. Their enclosure is a large area and they seem happy enough, but cannot be released, as they have no hunting skills. Possibly the most special animals I encountered in Namibia were the elephants. They were very graceful and almost silent, despite their size. They visited the waterhole, moving extremely slowly. Every so often they would freeze, spending several minutes at a time catnapping on their feet. Giraffes were always very timid and would spend some considerable time dithering at waterholes worried about predators, before drinking. This is because they have to get into a very odd and vulnerable position in order to drink, splaying their front legs out at an extreme angle. Namibia reserves are full of a variety of different deer-like animals. You can tell the difference by their horn shape, their markings and their size. Here some kudos. The male has these dramatic wavy horns. The female below is very much like a female deer, but stripy not spotty. Here are some impala as well. Impala have cute black dots on their ears, and slightly different shaped horns. Another similar creature is the oryx, with these very long, straight horns. They like to wade and swim in the waterholes. By far the most common though is the springbok. You see these everywhere, both inside and outside the reserves. They are the equivalent of pigeons in Britain. They are pretty cute. Their name comes from the fact that they actually do 'spring', just like new lambs!

One day I came across these little, banded mongooses on our camp site, digging holes. They were making sweet little squeaking calls to each other. They gradually moved along together, digging all the while and I followed them, drawing.

Here are some ostriches, with their chunky thighs, and a kori bustard. We had guides who were excellent for identifying everything. One day an ostrich raced our truck. They go like the wind - those thighs are pure muscle!

Wildebeest are an unusual shape to draw: so top-heavy with quite little bums. They were around quite a lot, moving in small herds. I had to concentrate hard to get the shape right.

I was fascinated by the zebras. Their markings were so bold and graphic, they really didn't look natural. I really loved their short, thick manes: like stripy mohicans!

You can see more of my sketches from Namibia on my website including the sketchbooks I brought back from my other travels, like China, Vietnam, Australia and countries all over Europe.