Today was a glorious sunny day. I walked out into the sun and everywhere was worthy of a sketch.
Here is 88 Golden Lane, a strange thin building. It is an architects’ practice: Blair Architecture.
I sketched this standing on the side of the road in the sun, then retreated to sit on my case by a nearby wall to add the colour.
It must have looked as though I was sitting on the pavement. An elderly woman, pushing a shopping basket on wheels, stopped and asked me if I was alright. I said I was, and explained that I was drawing a picture. “Oh,” she said, “because I was going to say that if you needed a sit down, there a bench just around the corner here.”
I gestured to the building I was drawing. “Ah yes, you wouldn’t be able to see that if you went round the corner.” She told me she had wanted to be an artist. She always got the art prize at school. But then the schools closed. “We were blocked,” she said. I didn’t know what she meant. “I’m old,” she said, smiling at my blank expression, “the war.”
Because the school closed, she left at 14. “I wanted to go to the art school, St Martins, but that was closed because of the war.” So, she said she’d be a typist. Then the firm she worked for closed down because of the war. “So I went on War Work,” she declared. “Oh, I’ve had a good life. I’m 93. Although people say I don’t look it.” She certainly didn’t look it.
I suggested she take up art now.
“I can’t,” she said, “it’s the hands.” She held up her arms. Her hands were balls, in gloves. “Arthritis,” she said. “But I’m alright. I was ill. And I recovered. So now I think, well, I’ve got a new life. Get on with it.”
She waved her balled hands cheerfully and pushed her trolley on. She turned round. “I hope to see you again,” she said.
The Towers are St Mary’s Tower and Peabody Tower, just to the North of the Barbican.
I made 14 reasonable prints, and 2 out-takes. I glued the out-takes into my notebook. I make one page per print session, and record what I did, what paper and ink I used, what worked and what didn’t. This is in an attempt to learn and improve my printing technique.
Here are the 14 reasonable prints, numbered 1 to 14. Numbers 1-13 are on card 20cm by 30cm. This card size is intended as a greeting card. When folded it fits neatly into an A5 envelope. Number 14 is on larger paper. All are for sale, £5 each plus postage. Please contact me by email via the contacts page, or leave a comment on this page. The red writing is on the online image here, not on the print.
Click on an image to enlarge it. It may take a little while to load.
These are all part of my “Towers Project” leading to an exhibition in the Barbican Library February 2019.
I work in the print studio at East London Printmakers. Prints are on Fabriano Unica Paper, using Intaglio Printmaker Bone Black ink. They are printed by hand on the Henderson press. Each print takes about half an hour to print.
You see Galway Street on the crease of the map, in the centre about a quarter of the way down. Below it, to the right is the “Bank Printing Works”.
In 1959 the London County Council sought to purchase the Printing Works site and use it as an annexe to Covent Garden. This was opposed by Michael Cliffe, MP for Finsbury and Shoreditch, on the grounds that it would create unacceptable traffic congestion, especially at the Old Street Roundabout.
Mr Cliffe is quoted in Hansard:
“…London County Council (General Powers) Bill, …. The Council, through the Bill, sought powers to acquire and redevelop St. Luke’s Printing Works as an annexe of Covent Garden Market….. I would ask the Minister what is the point of spending millions of pounds in trying to solve the problem of congestion in Central London if we are to convert the St. Luke’s Printing Works as an annexe to Covent Garden in an area where we know it must inevitably cause the kind of congestion that we are trying to avoid and which we are discussing every day. As the number of vehicles increases, further problems will have to be solved. Surely we do not want to create further difficulties after our experience gained in the past?” [Hansard: HC Deb 17 December 1959 vol 615 cc1738-47]
Mr Cliffe must have prevailed. I feel an affinity with him because earlier this week I drew Michael Cliffe House.
The Printing Works building was demolished in 1963. At around that time Finsbury Council was building council houses, including the 4 tower blocks in the area: Gambier House, Grayson House, Godfrey House and Galway House. So somehow the Council must have acquired the Print Works site. I can’t find the history online so I’m going to visit the London Metropolitan Archives and the Islington Museum.
The Towers also were allocated to different Estates: Galway is in the “St Luke’s Estate” which includes the Printing works Site, Gambier is in the City Road Estate and Grayson and Galway are in the Pleydell Estate.
From “Streets with a story, The book of Islington” (1986) by Eric A Willats FLA I learn that: “Messrs. Emberton, Franck & Tardrew were the architects of Galway House (Pleydell Estate)”.
Here is Michael Cliffe House, in the Finsbury Estate, from Tysoe Street.
The lower level block in the low centre of the picture is Joseph Trotter Close, also part of the Finsbury Estate.
While I was drawing the picture a man came and told me that he had seen the original architect’s drawing of this low level block. In the architect’s vision it was “sleek and wonderful”. But the man said the reality was very different. The concrete had worn badly and the building had not succeeded, in his opinion.
Earlier a woman came when I was at the pen-and-ink stage. She said that her 11 year old grandson had started painting, which pleased her very much. She bought paints for him. I asked if she painted too. She said no, but she was inspired by her grandson and might now have a go herself. “After all,” she said, ” he just paints anything, and I could do that too!”. I agreed.
The drawing took two hours. After I finished I went to have a look at Joseph Trotter Close. I saw a low-level set of bungalows, all very much inhabited, with children’s play things and outdoor chairs on the lawn. It may not be sleek, but it looked as though people enjoyed living there.
The entrance to Michael Cliffe House was cramped and congested, with cars manoeuvring awkwardly and a dark, obscured, entrance. Lovely typeface though.
The real surprise was inside the entrance. There, uncelebrated in the underpass, were some amazing mosaics of dancers.
Michael Cliffe (1903-1964) was a Labour councillor for Finsbury, Mayor of Finsbury (1956-7), and an active Labour MP (1958-64).
The Finsbury Estate was built by Finsbury Borough Council in 1965. The architects were Emberton, Franck & Tardrew. Finsbury Borough council was absorbed by Islington.
Later note (7th Feb 2019): There is detailed information on the Finsbury Estate on “British History online” – try this link, which starts with a history of Spa Green, and goes on to describe the Finsbury Estate.
They are all for sale! Please let me know if you would like to buy one. All are printed on etching paper “Fabriano Unica”. They are intended to be used as greetings cards. So the print is to the side like this:
They fold in half to make a greeting card which fits in a C5 envelope.
Folded to make A5 card
Folded to make A5 card
Fits in C5 envelope
Fits in C5 envelope
Equally they can be folded in half or cut, and put in a frame size A5.
If you’d like to buy one, please contact me, and say which one you’d like. They are numbered – click the images in the gallery above. £5 each + postage. These are handmade items by me, an amateur printer. Thumb marks, imperfections, ink smudges and other defects reflect the handmade nature of the items and, as they say, “should not be regarded as defects”.
Here is a view looking North from Seward Street EC1 up the wonderfully named “Mount Mills Road”.
On the left are the backs of houses which front onto the Goswell Road. See the aerial walkways!
These houses are very old and much altered, somewhat provisionally. On the extreme left, for example, a drainpipe seems to have been routed right across a door. No doubt they said to each other “We’ll sort that out later.” Below the window on the second floor is one of those extensible clothes dryers. The vertical red pipes seem to be flues from a café, but it’s difficult to tell.
Turnpike House is part of the “Kings Square Estate” managed by Islington. It has 20 floors and was built in the 1960s as council housing. There is a current renovation programme, which is why there is scaffolding down the left hand edge of the tower in the drawing.
On the right is Godfrey House, Bath Street, Islington, part of the St Luke’s Estate managed by the London Borough of Islington. It’s former “council housing” built in 1965. Today many of the flats are privately owned, as is evident from the number listed for sale.
On the left is the Atlas Building, on City Road, nearing completion. Atlas is taller than Godfrey House, but further away. Atlas Building is 52 floors, of which 38 are residential, Godfrey House is 21 floors.
“Atlas epitomises luxury-living in an exciting and vibrant urban landscape. Standing tall with 38 residential floors of exquisite apartments, Atlas stretches across London’s prominent skyline” (from the Atlas Building website)
In the foreground is the roof of Saint Luke’s Church of England School.
I drew this picture sitting on a stone in Radnor Street Gardens, off Lizard Street. After a while I noticed that the place smelt of dog excrement. It has rained recently, after a dry spell.
At 6pm a personal training session started behind me. A large man was training a slim woman. They were doing kick-boxing. Between rounds, she told him about government procedures to find out about your earned income, and thus check your tax payments. They can access your bank accounts, she warned him. He laughed and said, “Hey, that’s not making me feel good. I thought you’d have some good news for me.”
“Tower Block UKis a project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, bringing together public engagement and an openly-licensed image archive in an attempt to emphasise the social and architectural importance of tower blocks, and to frame multi-storey social housing as a coherent and accessible nationwide heritage.”
Here is a link to a Freedom of Information request which gives a very detailed map of the estates in Islington (2010): FOI request from Mr I Agar
This was an aquatint with 6 tones, which is about the maximum I can achieve. On the 4th and 5th dip it’s difficult to see what I’m doing.
These pictures are postcard-size, with the intention of making cards.
Here’s the test plate print.
I’m in the question about whether the aquatint needs more work. I thought it did when I first saw it, but now I’m not so sure. It isn’t as dark as the photo looks. Comments welcome.
Aquatint and test plate on Khadi handmade paper. Hard ground print on handmade paper from Paperchase. Printing done at East London Printmakers. Ink is Intaglio Printmaker “Shop Mix Bone Black” from a tube. Etching on 10cm x 15cm copper plate using Edinburgh Etch.
I discover from the amazing “Streets with a story, The book of Islington” by Eric A Willats FLA, that “Grayson House (1961)” was ” named after Frederick George Grayson, a superintendent of Radnor Street Sunday Schools and Mission, formerly in Radnor Street.”
Mr Willats’ book lists streets and some buildings in Islington, including as he says “what has come to my notice up to the early summer of 1986.” It is in the Islington Museum.
The hole in the top left corner is where the sheets were fastened together, with a neat little screw fastener.
Paper fastener – 1cm in diameter
Paper fastener unfastened
This was the only paper in the same pack with a ‘NOT’ (smoother) surface. Here is a close up view of the satellite dishes. On the NOT surface I can use pen easily. Pen and ink doesn’t work so well on the “Rough” surface. Here’s a close-up, showing Peregrine House and the satellite dishes on the building in front of it.
Below is a sketch out of the window in the rain: watercolour only, on the “Rough” surface 300gsm paper. Blake Tower is on the right, Post office Tower on the horizon, Barbican terrace block visible behind Blake Tower.
Forty-five minutes later, the sun was setting. I enjoyed using heavier paper (400gsm) to try to capture the shimmering light on the buildings. Painted directly in watercolour, no pen, no pencil.
Below is the final sketch, done quickly after the sun has set. This is on the heaviest paper, a magnificent 615gsm. It was stable, like card, so it didn’t curl or misbehave, and was not soft or absorbent, but took the watercolour brilliantly. It was very handy for such a quick sketch.
It’s fun to experiment with papers, and surprising what a difference the paper makes. Thankyou to the Vintage Paper Co for the samples.