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!!!