Austin Friars, City of London

The City is quiet on a Saturday. Here is a view along one of the City lanes, Austin Friars. I drew it from the back (east side) of Drapers Gardens, which is a new office block on Copthall Avenue.

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I struggled with the sky. This is “cerulean blue chromium”. It granulated, didn’t go on flat.  I think I had the paper too wet – I wetted it before I put the paint on, which was probably a bad idea. The actual sky was a clear and uniform blue, extraordinary in England in November. Don’t be deceived though, it was very cold where I was standing. You can see my hand shaking – look at the phone box.

In the distance you see the Natwest Tower on the left, now called “Tower42”. To the right and high up is the new building “TwentyTwo Bishopsgate”. The NatWest Tower was the highest in London in its day (1980). TwentyTwo will be the highest in the City to date.

Austin Friars, the road, bisects a site formerly occupied by an Augustinian Friary, hence the name. The monastery is long gone, except that the church survives, rebuilt after the Blitz. It is the “Dutch Church” in London, just out of the picture along Austin Friars.

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Map showing the sightline in the drawing

I sat on the ground to put the watercolour on. A man came up and asked me if I would like a hot drink, coffee or tea? He called me Ma’am. He told me he worked nearby, in the office block behind me. Very shortly he returned with tea in a takeaway cup, including a lid. Seeing that I was still sitting on the pavement, he offered to fetch me some cardboard to sit on. This was a really nice man. I was about to stand up again though, so I thanked him for the tea and he went back indoors.

He revived my faith in human nature. I was very glad of the tea, and of the warm feeling that even here amongst city skyscrapers, there are human humans.

The drawing took about 1hour30min, drawn and coloured on location. Daniel Smith watercolours, mostly Mars Yellow, Perinone Orange and Prussian Blue, with Cerulean Blue Chromium sky, and a bit of Pyrrol Red for the phone box.

 

 

Sketching in the Ashmolean Museum

What is the purpose of a museum? The previous evening, I’d been to a lecture by Tim Reeve, Deputy Director of the V&A. He had described, with great conviction, a new building they plan for East London, in “Here East” on the former Olympic Park. It will open up the V&A storage and logistics centre to public view. People will be able to work there, and be inspired by the objects. The idea is to generate “creative career opportunities in East London”. I could see how the proposed building, its architecture and the way it will be used are oriented firmly towards that clear aim. Well done V&A.

So, sitting in the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology in Oxford, I wondered what was the purpose of this museum. I was in the Randolph Sculpture Gallery, which contains a collection of Greek and Roman marble statues, collected in the 17th century.

The main use of the gallery, at that point in the day, was for people to sit on the upholstered seats, and chat, and use their mobile phones. In my sketch, I drew the three benches I could see, each of which is occupied by someone staring at their mobile phone. In the background, a monumental head of Apollo looks on.

This part of the gallery seemed to be serving as a public living room, which is perhaps as fine a purpose for a museum as any.

On the lower level there is a large Egyptian statue on a tall plinth.

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An elderly gentleman chose this place to read his paper. Through the plinth, I could just see a woman chatting to someone via her screen.

There are many ways to enjoy a museum.

I walked about sketching things.

Here is an object from one of my favourite parts of the museum. It is a Yue ware pot, about a thousand years old. It’s small, only about 5 inches tall, and a gleaming green colour. It’s lovely to draw these things, as it in only by looking for a long time that I gradually become aware of the marks of the fingers of the maker, and of the slight irregularities in the shape.

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Sainte-Croix: l’Atelier de mécanique ancienne du Dr Wyss

Here is a machine that was used to make music boxes:

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The machine is about 100 years old. It still works. It sits with its colleagues and companion machines in the workshop of Dr Wyss, in Sainte-Croix. Dr Wyss collected the ancient machines, as the music box industry declined in the region. They are now looked after in a dim and oily machine shop, in a semi-basement of an unremarkable building. Mr Théodore Hatt is their carer, curator and operator. I had the great privilege of spending some time in the workshop, quietly drawing, while Mr Hatt showed the collection to a visiting engineer from Germany.

The machines operate from huge and very dangerous-looking belts in the ceiling. At a certain point in his presentation, Mr Hatt sets all these belts in motion. They create a gentle rhythmic noise, rumbling down the length of the workshop. He connects different machines, driven by the belts. Each machine changes the noise slightly. His explanations, in German, come to me in harmony with the machine beats.

I drew the electroplating machine, and the drill:

Here are some work-in-progress photos, and a close-up of the cogwheel in the first picture:

 

On the way home, in Geneva airport, I drew the view:

“Amidst runway fog
a hawk circles and plummets.
The crows are annoyed.”

 

Cathedrals in the Shires: Hereford and Worcester, with Kilpeck and Tewksbury

Here is Worcester Cathedral.

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I sketched this view from the cloisters, which were glazed and enclosed. I did, however, find a chair, and a convenient inverted dustbin on which to place my tools.

The other Cathedral we visited this trip was Hereford:

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Here I had an unrestricted view from the Chapter House garden, which was very peaceful and lovely.

We also visited a small church, Kilpeck, which is very ancient:

In this church there were viking carvings.

If you are in the area I recommend also Tewkesbury Abbey, which though not a cathedral is an inspiring and welcoming place. I had a terrible cold, and lacked the energy to make anything except a small indoor picture.

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I must mention the excellent deli in Tewksbury High Street, Miss Muffet. We just had a sandwich, but suddenly I remembered what sandwiches are supposed to taste like. And for all its quality control and high-class ingredients, Pret in London cannot hope to match the Tewksbury offer: fresh home-made bread, pastrami just cut, and cracking piccalilli. Here’s the view from the window. Good food takes time.

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#Inktober 2019

I did Inktober for the first time this year. This is a drawing challenge, described on the Inktober web page. The idea is to draw a picture, in ink,  each day of October.

“Inktober is about the constraint of medium. You must draw with ink. When you sit down to do the challenge you don’t have to decide what colors you’re going to use, whether you’ll be rendering in pencil or watercolor. The challenge has stripped away all of these variables that can get you sidetracked or frustrated, allowing your creative energy to be focused straight into your drawing.” Jake Parker

I followed the official prompts:

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Here are my pictures. They are all done in black ink on white paper. The reason they appear in different tints and tones is that they were photographed in different light, depending on where I was at the time.

 

I used De Atramentis document ink (waterproof) and a Sailor Fountain pen with EF nib. For the tones, I diluted the ink with water.

Here’s what I learned from Inktober:

  1. I could do it. It was fun to do, and an achievement.
  2. The drawings are mostly small, 2½” square. “15” and “16” are 8″ square. If I do it again, I’ll use a bigger sketchbook.
  3. I used a sketchbook with quite soft, low quality paper. Next time: use smooth watercolour-quality paper, which will take the ink better and not buckle.
  4. I started doing drawings of any size. These get cut to a square when posted on Instagram. If I do it again, I’ll do all square drawings.
  5. It was a good idea to write “#inktober” and the day on the drawing.

Gaslights on 1 & 2 Mitre Buildings, Temple

Here is a back alley off Fleet Street, London EC4.

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It is Old Mitre Court. The buildings on the right are 1 & 2 Mitre Court Buildings. They are listed Grade 2. Here’s what Historic England says in the listing:

Early/mid C19. 4 storeys plus basement. Plain classical, south elevation of Portland stone with channelled ground storey and cornice below top floor. Arched passage through centre. Plain, rear elevation of yellow brick with railings and gates.

It’s the “rear elevation of yellow brick” that you see in the picture. There are three gas lamps, at least one of which works. The other two look very rickety.

The buildings, 1 & 2 Mitre Court Buildings, are legal practices, housing Barristers and their associates. A list of the barristers is by the doors. The notice on the pavement says “Inner Temple Treasury Office, Open 10am – 4pm”. This is the office underneath the furthest gas light, the one with the right-angled support above it.

The paving slabs at the bottom of the picture were in fact green, as I have drawn them. It was damp, and there was a coating of moss-type algae on the paving slabs. A saying of my late father was, “The plants will win in the end”. When I see such a green coating on stone, in the middle of the City, I am reminded of his words, and I think he is right.

Eventually I had to stop drawing as the rain came down. The drawing got a bit wet.

Here is work in progress and a map:

 

Drawing took 1hour 15 mins. Colours used mostly Perinone orange, and Prussian blue, with a bit of burnt umber. Indian yellow for the gas lights. All Daniel Smith colours. Pen is Lamy Safari EF nib, with De Atramentis document (waterproof) black ink.

 

St Peter upon Cornhill

I went out to look for more gas lights in the City. There was rain, and the back alleys were wet. I couldn’t find any more gaslights.

At the South East extreme of my peregrination I looked up and saw St Peter upon Cornhill. It is wedged in between other buildings.

The adjacent building is labelled “54 & 55” Cornhill, in lovely art-deco writing. There is a branch of “EAT” on the ground floor. High up, there are three strange devils (ringed in red on the annotated picture above). The two larger and higher ones are definitely female devils, with big breasts and strong muscles. The smaller devil is yelling from his position above a window.

I drew this picture from the shelter of White Lion Court, which is on the North side of Cornhill. This is one of those City of London back-alleys. It doesn’t go anywhere, just to the door of what looks like an insurance company, and off to the side is a doorway with ecclesiastical carving above. It looks like the entrance to a monastery. But that can’t be right. The modern iron gate is adorned with modern litter.

As I was drawing a man came round from the nearby branch of Sainsbury’s to eat his sandwich and smoke.

Then later another man came by and asked me if I had seen the fire brigade. I said no, because I hadn’t. He said the fire alarm in one of the offices had gone off. He said he’d be wandering about for a bit, while he contacted the key holder. I could hear him calmly making phone calls. He was still there when I finished my drawing and packed up. I waved goodbye to him, and he nodded and half waved back, constrained in his movements as he was holding his phone to his ear and consulting a notebook.

It is astonishing how many tourist groups go down Cornhill. If I have done nothing else today, I have at least inspired a few tourists and other passers-by to look upwards to the onion spire of St Peter upon Cornhill. People pause, see that I am drawing, wonder what I can possibly be drawing in that dingy back-alley, and then look in the direction I’m looking and see the spire.

The tourist groups pause in the shelter of nearby Sun Court. I guess they are being told anecdotes about why there are she-devils on 54 and 55 Cornhill. I looked online. I can only find anecdotes, no facts. The building is by Runtz, 1853.

There has been a church at St Peter upon Cornhill since the 2nd Century AD, according to a tablet whose inscription was recorded and copied on various printed media, and now on Wikipedia. The tablet doesn’t exist any more as it was destroyed in the fire of London. The current building is by Christopher Wren, and was constructed between 1677 and 1684. There is also an entrance on Gracechurch St, which I must go and have a look at.

Here is work in progress.

The drawing took 1½ hours.